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Thursday 5th
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Aslef members on Southern cut walkout to three days

DRIVERS at troubled train privateer Southern cut their strike action down to three days next week, their union said yesterday, while warning that disputes over driver-only operation could spread to other routes.

Aslef announced that the walkout, which was due to run for six days from next Monday, will now only take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and next Friday.

Aslef members will strike again on January 24, 25 and 27, when all services will be cancelled.

The union is resisting Southern’s expansion of driver-only operation. Conductors have been stripped of their safety-critical functions and rebranded as “on-board supervisors,” with drivers expected to close doors and make safety checks via CCTV installed in their cabs.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the decision to reduce next week’s strike action had been taken after “listening to the concerns of the travelling public” but was “not at all a rollback.”

New trains ordered by Merseyrail last month are designed for driver-only operation, and Mr Whelan said the new Northern franchise would seek to introduce the practice on 50 per cent of its services.

The Aslef leader said this could provoke industrial action “if the tactic is imposition.”

Scotrail has also sought to expand driver-only operation, but new trains are now being retrofitted to allow guards to operate the doors after a deal between unions and management.

Mr Whelan said Southern staff had taken “a lot of verbal abuse” from passengers over the dispute.

He said he had been personally targeted, with “death threats coming through reception” at the union’s HQ.

But he said drivers on strike were primarily concerned with safety, adding: “We keep our fingers crossed every day there isn’t a major incident.”

According to Aslef, trains are running “every day” without on-board supervisors.

Southern recently failed a Department for Transport security test, when an unattended bag was left on a train.

A Southern spokesman claimed that the change of strike plans next week was “a cynical ploy to minimise the impact on Aslef’s drivers’ pay packets” and showed “pure contempt for the travelling public.”

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “Fewer strike days will still cause massive disruption for passengers.

“This modern way of running trains has been safely used elsewhere in the UK for 30 years. There is no safety issue; the independent rail regulator has confirmed it is safe.”

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