Rail staff at six firms to strike in the new year in dispute over guards

Workers at six train operating companies are to stage a series of 24-hour strikes in the new year in the long-running dispute over the role of guards.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at South Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, Arriva Rail North and the Isle of Wight's Island Line will walk out on January 8, 10 and 12, while those on Southern will strike on January 8.

The union said it had made "every single effort" to resolve the bitter disputes, which it insisted were about safety. The strikes will cause fresh disruption to passengers, days after rail fares increase.

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RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Every single effort that RMT has made to reach negotiated settlements in these separate disputes with the different train operating companies over safe operation and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces and we are left with no option but to confirm a further phase of industrial action in the New Year.

"No-one should be in any doubt, these disputes are about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies.

"It is frankly ludicrous that we have been able to negotiate long-term arrangements in Scotland and Wales that protect the guards and passenger safety, but we are being denied the same opportunities with rail companies in England.

"This suspension of normal industrial relations by the employers has to end if we are to make progress towards a solution that guarantees safe rail travel for all."

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Cash added: "RMT is in no doubt that it is the dead hand of the minority Tory Government that is interfering in these disputes and their influence is a factor in preventing the union from reaching negotiated settlements.

"With fare increases kicking in on January 2, it is outrageous that Prime Minister Theresa May and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling are happy to stand aside and cheer on overseas rail companies that rip-off the British passenger with eye-watering fair increases to subsidise their domestic transport operations while throwing the guards off our trains."

Mr Cash said the Government should lift its "blockade" on talks in the separate disputes to allow the union to negotiate "freely" with the companies.

@RMTunion announces strike action in New Year in separate disputes over the attack on the role of the guard and the extension of Driver Only Operationhttps://t.co/sVpLmOEQMxpic.twitter.com/BC61HeCHyu

-- RMT (@RMTunion) December 20, 2017

RMT members on Virgin West Coast, CrossCountry, South Western Railway, Greater Anglia and London's Dockland Light Railway are taking strike action in the coming weeks in a series of disputes over staffing, pay and working conditions.

Richard Allan, Arriva North's deputy managing director, said: "Northern is committed to investing in new and updated trains, better stations and faster journeys for our customers.

"Northern is still prepared to guarantee jobs and pay for conductors for the rest of our franchise to 2025 if we can reach agreement on how our colleagues deliver better customer service using those fantastic new facilities.

"Additionally, last week the Government wrote to RMT, guaranteeing employment for conductors beyond 2025 if RMT ends its dispute.

"We will be working hard to keep customers on the move during these next RMT strike days."

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: "No-one wins from RMT strike action.

"The partnership railway understands the need to change and is working together with a long-term plan to do more for customers, communities, businesses and our people.

"These improvements are what the RMT strikes are about. Working together, we've got to find a way through this dispute so that we can get on with the business of delivering our long-term plan for the railway, playing our part to support Britain's economy."

The strikes will be the latest industrial action taken by RMT members (Jonathan Brady/PA)
The strikes will be the latest industrial action taken by RMT members (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Richard Dean, Greater Anglia trains service delivery director, said: "We are very disappointed that the RMT has announced three more strike days, in January, in addition to the strike on Wednesday December 27, as we have been holding constructive talks with union officials.

"We will be running our full Christmas service as planned if the RMT strike goes ahead next Wednesday and intend to run a full service on January 8, 10 and 12.

"We are keeping our conductors on our trains. In fact we will be recruiting more when we get our new trains. We have guaranteed their jobs right until the end of the franchise, in October 2025."

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