A LONG series of strikes has begun on South Western Railway today, after talks between the company and the RMT broke up without agreement before the weekend.
The union has alleged that the failure to come to terms over the future pattern of on-train staffing and the role of guards was for ‘political’ reasons, while SWR has claimed that a deal was reached during Thursday’s discussions, only for it to be rejected after the meeting by the RMT’s Executive.
SWR services are severely reduced today, and will continue to be disrupted until New Year’s Day unless there is a settlement in the meantime.
The strike will be suspended on 12 December, which is election day, but SWR has warned that it will not be possible to reinstate normal timetables just for that day, and that the ‘strike service’ will continue.
There are fewer trains on principal SWR routes, and buses are replacing trains on a number of local lines. SWR services are suspended on some sections of its network where other operators offer alternative services. SWR has also warned that peak time trains will be very busy, and that queuing systems for passengers will be necessary at some stations.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘RMT is angry and frustrated that a set of proposals that would have guaranteed the safety-critical role of the guard at the point of despatch, and which would have cost the company absolutely nothing, were kicked back in our faces last week. There is no rational explanation for the company position and we can only assume that either they or their paymasters in Government wanted this strike action to go ahead for politically motivated purposes.
‘The union believes that cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them all together at some point down the line. The stakes could not be higher.’
South Western Railway told Railnews this morning: ‘We’re very disappointed because we had agreed a deal in the room, but unfortunately the RMT’s executive later chose not to accept it.’