Hastings and Bexhill MPs urge union and rail bosses to end dispute

MP Huw Merriman outside Bexhill Railway Station, screenshot from his rail diary video

MP Huw Merriman outside Bexhill Railway Station, screenshot from his rail diary video

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MPs from the 1066-area have urged both union and rail bosses to find a solution to the long-running dispute affecting Southern services.

The RMT union started its five-day strike on Monday (August 6) as part of its fight with Govia Thameslink Railway over changes to the role of conductors on many of its services.

Staff shortages have caused months of disruption and this week’s strikes have virtually cut stations in the Hastings and Bexhill area off from any Southern services.

Both Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman, Bexhill and Battle MP, have spoken to the chief executive of GTR Charles Horton, rail minister Paul Maynard, and RMT general secretary Mick Cash in the last week urging them all to find a solution for passengers.

During the strike no replacement bus services have run from Bexhill, with only a limited replacement service running from Hastings to Ashford.

Mr Merriman chronicled his attempt to travel from Bexhill to meetings in Brighton on Monday morning by keeping a video diary of his journey, which lasted almost three hours each way compared to the usual time of slightly longer than an hour.

Ms Rudd said: “I have spoken with Charles Horton, Chief Executive of Southern Rail, and told him that passengers in Hastings and Rye have suffered enormous disruption for far too long and urgently need a resolution.

“He assured me have he has given the RMT and its members guarantees over jobs, pay rises and a second member of staff on every scheduled train (as is currently the case).

“What Southern are asking for, in return, is flexibility for a train to run if the second crew member cannot make the train and the driver is able to operate the doors. I hope that the union will consider that it has been given a better deal than many of its passengers enjoy, many of whom are struggling to get to their places of employment.”

Mr Merriman added: “I was grateful to Mick Cash for calling me and I listened to the matters which he felt staff needed more reassurance over.

“Equally, I asked Mick to accept that there were matters which his union needed to concede on which would help trains run more regularly in the future and give a better service to passengers.

“I then passed on the concerns to the Secretary of State for Transport and the rail minister, the latter of whom I talked with.

“I made clear to the rail minister that our constituents had suffered enough and I urged him to consider bringing his influence to the table to get the remaining issues resolved.

“As local MPs, Amber and I will continue to do all we can to help facilitate talks between those who can bring this matter to an end.”

The Observer has backed calls to strip GTR of its franchise, which the Government have so far rejected.

In a letter to MPs, Mr Maynard wrote: “I do not believe that GTR should simply cave in to pressure from the RMT.

“They are clearly trying to resist logical and necessary changes that will bring benefits for passengers.”

Mr Cash blamed the Government for the breakdown in talks to avert the strike last Friday, claiming there was ‘no serious intent’ by GTR to engage in genuine negotiations, and he would have thought they would have accepted the union’s offer, similar to the one that ended a dispute in Scotland.

He said: “I have been involved in countless negotiations and have never witnessed a farce like this.”

But Mr Horton called their latest offer ‘comprehensive and incredibly fair’, with no compulsory redundancies, no reduction in salary, and no compulsory location moves, and urged the RMT to ‘come back to the table to talk, have constructive and productive discussions on the way forward and shake hands on a deal’.

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