27 days of South Western Railway strikes will go ahead after RMT talks collapse

28 November 2019, 19:22

Talks between South Western Railway and the RMT collapsed on Thursday
Talks between South Western Railway and the RMT collapsed on Thursday. Picture: PA

By Megan White

27 days of train strikes will go ahead after talks between South Western Railway and the RMT collapsed.

Services across Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset will be disrupted during the walk out, which starts next Monday.

Talks were held over the past two days at the conciliation service Acas but ended without agreement.

The union accused the company of "wrecking" attempts to reach a deal in the long-running row over the role of guards on trains.

The RMT said the company "point-blank refused" to show any serious movement at the Acas talks, adding it had set out proposals ensuring that the guard had an "integral and guaranteed role" which would have cost nothing but which would have guaranteed the safest method of operation.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT is angry and frustrated that a set of proposals that would have guaranteed the safety-critical role of the guard at the point of despatch, and which would have cost the company absolutely nothing, have been kicked back in our faces.

"There is no rational explanation for the company position and we can only assume that either they or their paymasters in Government want this strike action to go ahead for politically motivated purposes.

"The union also believes that cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them altogether at some point down the line.

"Both the union and the travelling public are being set up and that stinks.

"Our action goes ahead from Monday in defence of passenger safety and accessibility and the blame for that lies wholly with SWR and their wrecking strategy.

"The union remains available for talks and we have a deal to solve this dispute which is cost-free for SWR, worked up and ready to go. The company should grab it with both hands and avoid the disruption to services their actions will unleash."

An SWR spokesman said: "We have done everything we can and more to meet the RMT's outdated demands with our promise of a guard on every train, and a safety critical role for that guard.

"What we are not prepared to compromise on is the much needed modernisation of the service with improved performance, safety and customer service that our new fleet of modern suburban trains will vitally deliver for customers.

"We know our passengers will welcome over 10 million more passenger journeys a year arriving on time and this much needed improvement to our service is too important to compromise.

"Throughout negotiations we have tried repeatedly to find ways meet the RMT's aspirations. However, every time we find a way forward on one point the union has moved the goalposts by changing its position.

"They said at the outset this was about keeping the guard on the train, that is exactly what we have offered. They said they wanted a safety critical role for that guard, that is what we have offered.

"Unfortunately it is clear to us that the RMT is unclear on what this dispute is about and intent on striking no matter what. We know the impact these RMT strikes will have on our passengers and we want to be clear that we have done everything we can to try and avert the strikes and meet RMT's antiquated and changing demands."