Southern train drivers’ overtime ban a ‘political strike’ - Tory

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling with Tory candidate for Crawley Henry Smith at Three Bridges Railway Station
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling with Tory candidate for Crawley Henry Smith at Three Bridges Railway Station

A ban on overtime working called by Southern train drivers is a ‘pre-election political strike’ according to the Conservative’s general election candidate.

Union ASLEF held strikes before and after Christmas in a row over the introduction of driver-only operation by Govia Thameslink Railway.

Two deals negotiated by union bosses have both been narrowly rejected by ASLEF members.

Further talks to find a resolution broke down yesterday and today (Wednesday May 17), ASLEF announced an overtime ban starting Sunday June 4.

Henry Smith, who is looking to be re-elected to Parliament, has condemned the industrial action.

He said: “This is effectively an anti-modernisation, pre-election political strike designed to cause commuter misery.

“The dispute isn’t about job losses or a pay cut, neither are proposed, instead it’s simply down to a reactionary union trying to delay updating our railway. Driver operated doors have safely existed for many decades on a majority of the UK network and in most industrialised countries. Guards are simply being re-deployed to better serve customers throughout train carriages.”

Drivers voted overwhelmingly, 87.3 per cent, to strike, and 95.6 per cent voted for action short of a strike, such as an overtime ban.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “We have been talking to Southern to try and resolve the outstanding issues in a way which works for drivers, passengers, and the company.

“Unfortunately, the company has refused to move its position so we have, reluctantly, informed the them that our members will refuse to work overtime from the end of this month.”

Meanwhile the RMT union, which represents conductors who have been transferred to the role of on-board supervisor, is set to hold its 32nd day of strike action on Tuesday May 30.

Nick Brown, chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “After over five months of intense negotiations and two peace deals agreed and recommended by the ASLEF executive, we are dismayed the union leadership is taking this action, which is designed to impact as many of our passengers as possible.

“Driver-controlled operation with on-board supervisors was fully implemented back in January and thanks to this we are running more trains than before and our service has improved for five consecutive months.

“We’re safely running over 80,000 trains a month with drivers controlling the doors across our network – we’re sorry that passengers will suffer as a result of this unnecessary action.

“We have worked our hardest to resolve this dispute with ASLEF. If this action does go ahead we will run as full a timetable as possible.

“We will be working around the clock to evaluate the impact and develop contingency plans which will be advertised as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said: “This is an important and significant development and RMT would now call on GTR to join ‎with both unions in tri-partite talks aimed at negotiating a settlement to this dispute which puts safety and access to services at the top of the agenda.”

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