|Battle Lines Drawn Over Guards on South Western Railway|
Prospect of Southern Rail levels of disruption ahead if dispute not resolved
Concerns that local train services could begin to experience the level of disruption seen on Southern Railway due to industrial action have been raised after the RMT declared itself to be in ‘formal dispute’ over the issue of guards on South Western Railway.
South Western Railway has taken over the franchise formerly operated by South West Trains which serves the Hounslow Loop through Brentford, Syon Park, Kew Bridge, Isleworth and Chiswick and suburban services in Putney, Wandsworth Town and Wimbledon. The new franchise owner First MTR has been accused of not giving ‘clear, cast-iron assurances’ over the future of guards on their trains. As a result the RMT has announced has that preparations for a ballot are now underway on South Western Railway.
RMT will commence with a ballot for strike action and action short of strike in the form of ban on overtime and a rest day working ban. Guards, Commercial Guards and Driver members on South Western Railway will be included in the ballot. Similar action on Southern which operates in south east London has led to massive levels of disruption due to trains having to be cancelled due to guards being unavailable. The other train drivers union ASLEF looks set to come to terms with the company over the dispute and has been accused of betrayal by the RMT.
RMT say they have spent months since First MTR won the franchise from Stagecoach trying to get a water-tight pledge out of the new owners on the guards but claim they have been met with ‘a barrage of spin and prevarication’.
Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary, said, “RMT has given repeated opportunities for First MTR to give us the assurances we have sought over the future role of the guards on their trains throughout the length of the new South Western franchise. They have refused to give us those guarantees and it is that failure which leaves RMT with no option but to declare a formal dispute with the company and to move towards a ballot for action.
“This dispute can be easily resolved if the company are prepared to stick to existing agreements, give staff and passengers alike a guarantee of a second, safety-critical member of staff on all current services and an assurance that safety and access are the absolute priority.
“Guards on SWR have been hailed as “legends” in company publicity material. It is time for First MTR to stand by those legends and to withdraw the threat to throw them off the trains. “
A South Western Railway spokesman said: “This dispute is unnecessary, we have made it perfectly clear that we plan to retain a second person on our services as we know that our passengers value the assurance and assistance a second member of on-board staff provides. During our franchise we will increase the numbers of drivers and guards so we can deliver more services for passengers. We look forward to talking with our teams and the trade unions about how we can work together to deliver the best possible service for our passengers. In fact we already have a meeting in the diary with the RMT which makes today’s announcement very premature.”
September 1, 2017