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SWR strikes set to go ahead after latest talks fail

TWO days of negotiations at the arbitration service ACAS have failed to avert multiple RMT strikes on South Western Railway in December.

The walkouts, in the continuing dispute over on-train staffing and the role of guards, are set to begin on 2 December and continue without a break until 11 December inclusive. The next series has been planned to start on 13 December and continue up to Christmas Eve, and strikes will restart on 27 December and continue until New Year’s Day.

If they all go ahead, these series of strikes will be the longest since the railways were privatised in the 1990s.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘RMT has attended discussions under the auspices of ACAS for the past two days to discuss the issues in dispute. No proposals that would enable the development of a resolution to the dispute have been put forward by SWR.

‘Throughout these ‎talks SWR have not shown any intention of moving the issues at the heart of the dispute forwards, despite verbal assurances in earlier discussions. It has become increasingly clear that they are not interested in reaching a settlement at this time. As a result of the company attitude all planned action remains on and the union is committed to ensuring the safest possible method of operation. RMT will remain available for discussions with the company at any time.’

South Western Railway has unveiled its arrangements for an emergency service on strike days.

SWR managing director Andy Mellors said: ‘We promise that there will always be a guard on our trains. We also promise our guards will maintain a safety critical role on our trains. We believe that these promises deliver what the RMT has been asking for, so these strikes are unnecessary.

‘All we’re asking is that guards work with us to provide the modern, efficient train service customers need and want by bringing in new trains which could mean over 10 million more passenger journeys arrive on-time in peak hours every year.

‘Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year, and we know people will be worried about how they get to work, school and other commitments like Christmas parties. So we are working hard on detailed plans for the period of the strikes and we will do everything we can to keep customers moving.

‘The prolonged nature of the strike means that we have to allocate our contingency guards to services over a longer period. We expect to be running more than half of our normal Monday – Friday services, prioritising capacity and providing a similar number of peak services to previous strikes.

‘But we know that services will be busier than usual, and we will have rail replacement services in some places and we’re working to make sure our tickets are accepted by other transport providers wherever possible.’

Meanwhile, the RMT has welcomed a Labour commitment to end Driver Only Operation. The RMT said: ‘The announcement by Labour means that as well as the party opposing the government’s current attempts to expand DOO, if Labour are elected they will also end DOO on the national rail network and guards will be guaranteed on all trains.’

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