Train drivers on Southern Railway will start voting on whether to accept a proposed deal to end their long dispute over driver-only trains.
Ballot papers are being sent out to members of Aslef, Britain’s trade union of train drivers, with a recommendation by leaders of the Union to accept the offer, but he drivers have rejected two previous attempts to reach an agreement.
The proposal is for a 28% pay rise and agreement that trains will have a second, safety-trained person on board, apart from “exceptional circumstances”.
It is understood that following months of talks, these have been reduced to three exceptions, to start on January 2:
:: Late notification of sickness, defined as less than two hours before booking on time;
:: On board supervisor (OBS) displaced by service disruption, late-running trains or being left behind on a platform;
:: OBS unable to continue duty having started work, for example through sickness, or having to leave the service to help a passenger or deal with an emergency.
The proposed deal is believed to read: “In all of the above circumstances, arrangements must be made to restore OBS presence to the service in question at the earliest opportunity.”
The ballot result will be announced on November 8.
Many have criticised the proposed deal as simply being a ‘rehash’ of previously rejected proposals, and see the negotiation as a never-ending back and forth that has repeatedly forsaken the middle ground and has now run aground up against a stubborn wall of complications that evade compromise.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union remains in dispute with Southern over the role of guards.
The RMT wrote to its members saying the proposed deal accepts the “wholly bogus” principle that it can be beneficial for passengers and drivers to run trains without an OBS.
“RMT has now seen the details and it is clear that this deal, cooked up by Southern Rail under the direction of the Government, seeks to pitch worker against worker in a drive to dismantle the safety culture and drive back the boundaries of driver-only operation.
“It is tainted by the linkage to pay and staff should remain united and reject the package rather than give the bosses and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling the whip hand.
“Staff on Southern Rail have stood united and determined in the teeth of the company attacks on safety, security and access for over 20 months now and this is no time to allow the company and the government to shatter that unity.
“The consequences of giving them a free hand would be horrific for staff and passengers alike. RMT will be campaigning for rejection of the proposals.”
The deal could put an end to the seemingly endless ordeal that many commuters have had to put up with for well over a year.
The 17-month Southern dispute, the longest in rail history, over the changing role of the guard and implementation of driver-only operated (DOO) trains, has caused strike disruption for about 300,000 regular passengers, many of whom commute into London Bridge and Victoria.
The RMT dispute continues, as more strikes are threatened following 35 24-hour walkouts held by the union. RMT represents more than 400 on-board supervisors, previously called guards, as well as some other staff grades. Aslef has staged six strikes, each bringing the entire Southern network to a standstill.
RMT boss Mick Cash wrote to all of his members today, angered that his union has not been brought to the table in the latest negotiations between Southern and Aslef, arguing that drivers were being “forced to make a choice between a £14,000 pay rise and their workmates”. He claimed the offer, if accepted, could result in an increase in DOO and that disabled passengers could be “left stranded” at stations.
RMT members have been asked to “speak to your driver colleagues, maybe show them this letter, and ask them to consider the bigger picture and reject this tainted offer”, and some Aslef members have already used social media to say they will reject the deal.
Southern has offered drivers a five-year deal, instead of four as in previous offers, which would mean a 28.5 per cent pay increase by 2020. This would put them on £62,966, an increase of £13,965 — but most drivers work regular overtime, adding up to 20 per cent, taking pay to more than £75,000.
The deal is also conditional on various changes to working practices, with the driver, on routes that already carry an on-board supervisor, being responsible for operating the train doors.
Mr Cash said: “This is a company deal that clearly gives the whip hand to the bosses. It’s a deal that affects our members’ jobs and terms and conditions but we have been omitted from negotiations.”
Mick Whelan, the Aslef chief, said: “The proposed agreement on DOO means we will have a second safety-trained person on every train covered by this agreement except in exceptional circumstances. That person will have all the relevant safety competence including the skills to evacuate passengers in an emergency.”
He said the deal was a “complete resolution of our long-standing issues with Southern”.