Aslef members vote to continue long-running dispute with shambolic franchise
by Conrad Landin, Industrial Reporter
TRAIN drivers on Britain’s most troubled railway rejected a second proposed compromise agreement with bosses yesterday.
Aslef members voted by a narrow margin of 51.8 per cent against the deal, which would have ended the union’s long-running dispute with Southern over its introduction of driver-only operated (DOO) trains. Turnout in the ballot was 75.4 per cent.
The proposal brought forward a CCTV upgrade and shortened the list of reasons why a train could run without a second member of staff. But it still transferred all operational duties to drivers.
Southern’s expansion of DOO has brought both drivers and conductors out on strike. Bosses say trains will continue to be staffed by conductors, though they will be rebranded “onboard supervisors.”
Transport unions, however, have raised safety concerns and fear the change will lead to on-board staff eventually being stripped out altogether.
A previous deal between drivers and management, brokered by the TUC, was rejected in January by 54.1 per cent of Aslef members. Reps then returned to talks before presenting the improved offer.
Commenting on yesterday’s result, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We understand and support the decision arrived at in a democratic vote by our drivers, and will now seek new talks with the company and work to deliver a resolution to this dispute in line with the expectations of our members.”
Under DOO, doors are closed by the driver, who must use CCTV to check that it is safe to do so.
Drivers have complained of poor-quality images, and fears that they could be held liable and potentially jailed for passenger accidents are thought to have played a part in union members voting against the deals. Sister rail union RMT, which represents conductors, has accused both Southern and TUC of seeking to exclude it from negotiations.
General secretary Mick Cash said the Aslef ballot result reflected “deep seated concern amongst drivers and the wider workforce” over driver-only trains.
“Southern Rail cannot jam their heads in the sand any longer,” he said.
“We are in talks with the company tomorrow and we now expect the fundamental issues at the heart of our guards’ and drivers’ disputes to be taken seriously.”
The RMT is unlikely to accept any arrangement that does not guarantee a second member of staff on board all trains previously manned with conductors.
Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Southern trains, called the result “hugely disappointing” but pledged to work with Aslef to “find a way forward.”