'Golden opportunity' to resolve Southern rail dispute as strike continues


Talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over the role of rail conductors are set to be held even though a strike is continuing. 

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern Railway have walked out for three days, ending at midnight on Thursday, and are threatening further stoppages in the coming weeks.

The action, coupled with overrunning engineering works, caused travel chaos on Tuesday, with more than a third of Southern's services cancelled.

The Association of British Commuters wrote to the Government expressing concern for the health and safety of passengers because of overcrowded trains and platforms.

But hopes of breaking the deadlock emerged after the two sides agreed to meet for fresh talks.

The chief executive of Southern's owners, Govia Thameslink Railway, Charles Horton, wrote to Mick Cash, leader of the RMT, offering to meet him face to face.

Mr Horton urged the union to call off this week's strike and allow "productive" talks to take place.

He said: "I'm prepared to free my diary to meet and to show your serious intent, I would like the RMT to call off the rest of the strike action planned for this week.

"Everyone - the travelling public, our staff and the regional economy - have faced months of misery and disruption. We have to end this dispute now and move forward."

Mr Horton said the company was pressing ahead with changing the role of conductors to on-board supervisors, with responsibility for closing train doors switching to drivers.

He said: "It would be beneficial to everyone if we can do so with the agreement of the RMT, but this has to be on the basis of the principles we have made clear to them throughout.

"Our proposals remain unchanged from 8 August when we set out our full, fair and comprehensive eight-point offer, on top of previous assurances made to you.

"These were supplemented by the offer of a lump sum payment on the 3 October, which the RMT rejected last week.

"Let's hope sense prevails and we can shake hands on a deal". Mr Cash said:  "RMT is pleased that GTR have responded positively to the union's call for talks."

The union said Mr Horton has made it clear the company is prepared to "guarantee" a second member of staff on every current Southern service with a conductor on board, the issue at the heart of the dispute.

"That gives us scope to move on and to discuss the detail of the role of that guaranteed second person? and to move towards a negotiated settlement to this dispute. 

"This is a golden opportunity to make a breakthrough."

The strike is continuing despite the development.

Picket lines will again be mounted outside stations today including London Victoria and Brighton.