TRAIN drivers on Britain’s most chaotic railway are set to vote on a new deal to end their long-running dispute over driver-only trains.
Negotiators from drivers’ union Aslef will recommend that its members on Southern Rail accept a deal guaranteeing a second member of staff on trains apart from in “exceptional circumstances.”
The company has rebranded guards as “onboard supervisors” and stripped them of operational duties and safety responsibilities, meaning trains can run with just a driver on board.
Unions argue this compromises passenger safety and
access for disabled people. They also fear it will lead to guards being removed altogether.
Periodic strikes by guards, who are organised by rail union RMT, continue. But Aslef has already put two deals to its members to end its own dispute, both of which were rejected in ballots.
According to a source close to the dispute, the circumstances under which a train can run under the new deal are broadly similar to what was possible before Southern transitioned the affected services to driver-only operation.
The rejected offers included leeway which both guards and drivers feared the company would exploit.
The deal also offers drivers a 28.5 per cent pay rise over the next five years.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Aslef members now have the opportunity to decide on the new proposed resolution we have negotiated with the company on the three outstanding issues we have with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) Southern.”
He said the issues of driver-only operation (DOO), terms and conditions and pay had been discussed “in separate, but parallel, talks” between union reps and management.
“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,” he said.
“That person will have all the relevant safety competence including the skills to evacuate passengers in an emergency.
“The proposed agreement confirms and underpins the terms and conditions under which our members at Southern are employed.”
GTR chief operating officer Nick Brown said: “We welcome the Aslef executive’s endorsement of the proposals we have negotiated to resolve the dispute.
“We have concluded negotiations on pay, productivity and driver-only operation in a package that will now be put to a referendum of Aslef members.”
But RMT condemned the deal as a “rehash of earlier company and government proposals that have been roundly rejected as unsafe.”
General secretary Mick Cash said: “It is shocking that Southern and the government believe that drivers can be bought off in this fashion. You cannot put a price on the safety and welfare of passengers and drivers.
“The proposals also fly in the face of agreements reached in Wales and Scotland that give the guarantee of a guard on our trains. RMT will continue to fight for a safe, secure and accessible railway for all and our dispute remains on.”