RMT CONDUCTORS (GUARDS) on Southern Railway held their third 24-hour strike on 21 June. This action is against GTR’s (GoVia Thameslink Railway) plans to run trains in Surrey and Sussex DOO (Driver Only Operation), and to replace the Conductors by ‘On Board Supervisors’ (OBSs).
On 21 June Conductors on Scotrail also started a series of strikes against the threat of extension of DOO and removal of Conductors from trains in central Scotland. GTR and ministers have tried to convince the public and MPs that the dispute is just about ‘who controls the doors’.
But it is far more than that. Many of the trains that now have Conductors will, in GTR’s plans, no longer have any second member of staff on board in addition to the driver. Passengers have said – in an opinion poll and in many comments to Conductors – that they want to keep the guard on the train. Disabled passengers, who now can turn up and have the Conductor assist them onto the train, will under GTR’s plans have to book 48 hours in advance to travel.
And even where an OBS will be on the train, they will not have the knowledge of safety rules and procedures that Conductors have. So in the event of an accident or the driver being incapacitated, the passengers will be less safe than now.
The RMT has produced a pamphlet, The Safety Critical Role of the Guard, explaining why guards are important for the safety of the travelling public. It is on the RMT website.
GTR have tried to bully Conductors into accepting their proposals, on a scale not seen for many years in the railway industry. Those who took part in the first 24-hour strike from 26 to 27 April, have had the equivalent of two days’ pay deducted. And company bosses removed from strikers their free travel passes – which all GTR staff and their families get – and their free parking permits for station car parks.
With the daily cancellations and delays to GTR’s train services - unconnected to industrial action - an increasing number of MPs in Surrey and Sussex (most of these MPs are Tories) are openly critical of GTR’s handing of the franchise and the service they are failing to provide, and calling for the franchise to be taken off them.
But the Department for Transport (DfT) has been busy trying to keep these MPs on side, and more public pressure on these MPs is needed to help keep the guards. The renewed threat to remove guards from trains is the result of a DfT drive to extend DOO, from about 30% of rail services now, to the whole rail network, as recommended in the McNulty report of 2011, and to crush the rail unions RMT and ASLEF. Southern and Scotrail Conductors are in the firing line now. Similar disputes are likely across more Train Operating Companies in coming years as the DfT tries to force them into moving to DOO. In response, the RMT has re-launched a national campaign to keep the guard on the train.