Aslef vote puts brakes on railway’s plans for driver-only trains
DRIVERS on Britain’s worst-performing railway sensationally rejected a deal with bosses over driver-only operation yesterday.
In talks brokered by the TUC last month, negotiators for drivers’ union Aslef came to a compromise with Southern rail on the long-running dispute over guard staffing.
But Aslef announced yesterday that drivers had voted to dump the deal by 54.1 per cent to 45.9 per cent. Turnout was 72.7 per cent.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, who had recommended acceptance, said: “We understand and support the decision arrived at democratically by our members and will now work to deliver a resolution in line with their expectations.”
The deal, under which the union would have agreed to an expansion of driver-only operation under certain conditions in exchange for safety improvements, had been drawn up after 11 days of talks co-chaired by TUC leader Frances O’Grady and Andy Meadows, the HR chief at private rail firm Abellio.
It was condemned at the time by rail union RMT, which represents Southern conductors.
Under the rail firm’s “modernisation plans,” conductors have been stripped of their skilled operational duties and unions fear this will lead to on-board staff being stripped out altogether.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said yesterday: “This ballot was entirely a matter for Aslef and their Southern members.
RMT has remained focused on the industrial and public campaign to protect the safety of the travelling public and to put access and safe operation before profits.
“RMT will now look to take that campaign into its next phase working with our sister rail unions, the wider trade union movement and the passengers who use the railway.”
Unions say the expansion of driver-only trains has been pushed by the government.
A similar dispute on Scotrail was resolved after management backed down last year, but now Northern and Merseyrail are looking to introduce driver-only trains of their own.
Yesterday RMT opened a strike ballot on Northern, saying the company had “failed to give assurances on the future role of the guard” on the network.
“This dispute, and the ballot for industrial action, were entirely preventable if the company had listened to the unions’ deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit,” Mr Cash said.
“Ballot papers will go out today with RMT calling for a resounding Yes vote. The union remains available for talks.”
A ballot of Merseyrail guards will open tomorrow. Both results are due on February 28.
The Southern network could now face more all-out strikes from drivers — which have previously resulted in total shutdowns. Aslef could also reinstate an overtime ban which the union suspended ahead of the TUC talks last month.
Southern chief operating officer Nick Brown said: “Naturally we’re saddened and hugely disappointed, as will be our passengers, with today’s decision by drivers, particularly as the agreement carried the full support and recommendation of the Aslef leadership.
“We now need to understand the issues which led to this outcome and we’ll be seeking to meet with the union as soon as possible to see how we can agree a way forward.”
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