Albert Perks

RMT fights on for train safety

Albert Perks

RMT’S CONDUCTORS (TRAIN GUARDS) on Southern Railway are still in dispute with GoVia Thameslink Railway (GTR). This is against the extension of Driver Only Operation (DOO), and the introduction of the company’s new On Board Supervisor (OBS) posts – which do not have the safety knowledge, training or the responsibility that guards have. They have taken 28 strike days, the latest on 23rd January. In December, GTR pushed through their planned extension of DOO and the transfer of most conductors to the OBS role, but the RMT and our guard members are determined to keep up their opposition. Meanwhile, the battle to keep guards on trains and against the Department for Transport's (DfT) plans to extend DOO will now also be fought out in the north of England, on Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North.

In the Southern dispute, the ASLEF deal with GTR conceded everything that GTR wanted – a development that bewildered the RMT and its members, and ASLEF’s own members on Southern. ASLEF went into talks with GTR that excluded the RMT. GTR and the DfT have tried hard to keep ASLEF and RMT separate for the last twelve months and more. Aware of the ASLEF-RMT joint statement against DOO of November 2015, GTR refused all along to discuss with RMT the extension of DOO on Southern. All they would talk about was the details of their proposed OBS grade. The ASLEF dispute and the RMT guards’ dispute are legally separate but over the same issue. So for ASLEF to have co-operated with GTR to exclude RMT was damaging to the unity that had been growing between our two unions.

The TUC also shunned the RMT and our members who have been leading the fight against extension of DOO since the beginning. - not only by agreeing to RMT being excluded, but also by putting out statements about the talks involving “all parties” when they clearly didn’t since the RMT wasn’t there.

Secondly, and even worse, the deal that came out of these talks was a surrender. It gave GTR all it wanted, and it was no better a deal than the unions could have had last April. ASLEF tried to mislead the RMT and their own members over what was actually in the deal. But on all three of the key components of the campaign against DOO, ASLEF conceded:

  1. The guarantee of a second member of railway staff on the train in addition to the driver. This is necessary for assisting disabled passengers on and off the train especially at unstaffed platforms, common at the smaller stations in Surrey and Sussex that Southern serves. It provides reassurance for women and vulnerable passengers. The deal gives no guarantee – just a statement that trains will “normally” have a second person on board, then a list of eight different circumstances where this will not happen. And since GTR imposed DOO in December, trains which used to have a conductor are regularly running with no second person on board.
  2. The safety critical role of this second member of staff. Guards go through months of training and assessment in safety rules and procedures. This includes the “Personal Track Safety” (PTS) qualification, which is mandatory if they have to go onto the railway track in the event of an accident or incident. For example, when a London Midland train came off the rails near Watford last September the driver, though unhurt, was trapped in the cab. The guard was trained and qualified to go onto the track, protect the train in the way laid down in the railway rule book, then reassure the passengers and after several hours lead them out of the train safely to meet the emergency services. GTR’s new OBS role is not safety critical, and includes just two days of very basic safety training. OBSs are not PTS qualified.
  3. Control of opening and closing train doors at stations and dispatching trains from stations. This is, contrary to what the BBC says, the least important of these three elements. Nevertheless, train dispatch involving a guard is a safer method than when the driver alone does the dispatch. In the deal, control of the doors and train dispatch was transferred to the drivers. The good news is that ASLEF members voted to reject the deal agreed by their leadership by 54.1% to 45.9% on a 72.7% turnout.

This shows that Southern drivers want to carry on the fight against the extension of DOO despite the arm twisting and misleading information put out by their leadership. It is a clear rejection of the actions both of the ASLEF leadership in agreeing the deal and of the TUC who brokered the deal. So the fight continues!