South Western Railway strike: RMT Union to ballot members as dispute over role of guards escalates

August 31, 2017
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Surrey could soon be plunged into a fresh rail strike nightmare.

Less than a fortnight into the tenure of new Surrey rail operator South Western Railway (SWR), the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) is threatening strike action over the role of guards .

The RMT says SWR has so far failed to give a cast iron guarantee it will honour an agreement forged with predecessor South West Trains (SWT) to retain a second member of staff on services.

SWR took over as franchisee from SWT on August 20 after 21 years in post.

But workers on the new franchise are now to be balloted for strikes in a dispute which has worrying echoes of the RMT versus Southern Rail debacle.

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What’s new on the trains?

A strike on the SWR franchise would have far reaching consequences for passengers not just in Surrey, but in west London, Hampshire, Dorset and the south west of England.

And as franchisee, SWR also has responsibility for Britain’s busiest station – London Waterloo – which has just undergone a major £800m upgrade to boost capacity by at least a third.

The ballot will determine whether members wish to stage industrial action and to what extent.

The RMT says SWR, a consortium of the First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR, had failed to give assurances over the future of guards.

The union said it had spent months since First-MTR won the franchise from Stagecoach trying to get a “water-tight pledge” on the future of guards, claiming it had been met with a “barrage of spin and prevarication”.

Another sticking point is a purported agreement upheld by SWT to ensure a second member of staff on all services.

‘Legendary guards’

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The RMT has given repeated opportunities for First-MTR to give us the assurances we have sought over the future role of the guards 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 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 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.

“That is the message that RMT will be taking out to the fare-paying public as we step up our campaign.”

‘Unnecessary and premature’

A spokesman for SWR said the dispute was unnecessary and premature.

“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,” they said.

The first train departed in the early hours of Sunday morning

South Western Railway says it ‘plans’ to retain a second person aboard services
(Image: South Western Railway)

“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 [Thursday August 31] announcement very premature.”

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Article source: http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/south-western-railway-strike-rmt-13555507


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