Rail strikes have ‘wreaked havoc’ on commuters and students during their exam periods, Worthing West’s MP said on Wednesday.
On the same day as hundreds of guards working for Southern took part in industrial action over safety fears in response to plans to remove conductors from trains, Sir Peter Bottomley said there was ‘no reason to justify the interruption to services’.
Charles Horton, chief executive officer at Southern, apologised for the delays due to the strike, but explained they were not removing conductors from trains, and argued the union RMT was ‘refusing to enter meaningful discussions’.
Speaking in the House of Commons Ffollowing the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday (May 18), Sir Peter, said: “To those involved in the disputes in the Southern and Govia Thameslink rail services at the moment, I see no reason to justify the interruption to services, whether that be through organised sickness absence or strikes.”
He argued that commuters needed a reliable service, and while some issues could justify a strike, he pointed out that around 40 per cent of Southern trains already see drivers operate the doors already, even though there may be other staff on the train.
He added: “Moving further on that approach is not a convincing reason to justify an all-out strike.”
He met with managers from Southern and Govia Thameslink Railway the day before to discuss the industrial action and lack of staff, which he said had ‘wreaked havoc’ on commuters and students during their exam periods.
Sir Peter vowed to keep the pressure on the rail operator until the service improves.
In an open letter to passengers, Mr Horton said: “I am extremely sorry that your journey may have been affected by strike action taken by the RMT Union on Wednesday 18 May, and would like to thank you for your continued patience.
“I would also like to apologise for the recent train cancellations due to higher than usual levels of sickness at some of our conductor depots.
“To be absolutely clear, we are not removing conductors from trains. Under our plans, everyone who wants a job will have one, no one will suffer any cut in salary, and more of you will benefit from more visible staff entirely focused on customer service onboard your train.
“We remain open to talks with the RMT umion. As they are refusing to enter meaningful discussions, further strikes are likely although we are doing everything we can to avoid any future disruption to your service.”
But Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “Passengers are only too well aware that this is rail franchise that has already axed on-board catering services, continues to threaten ticket office and station services and is now coming for the guards who are the front line troops in the delivery of safety.
“All of those cuts plans are driven by one factor and that is the over-arching demand from Southern GTR to max up their financial returns.”
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