Rail unions to strike as Southern Rail bids to scrap conductors

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Rail union members have backed major strike action today (Tuesday, April 19) over Southern Rail plans to scrap conductors on all its services.

Southern says it wants to replace conductors with On-board Supervisors, a new role which would focus on helping passengers with service information and checking tickets instead of safety responsibilities such as operating train doors. The changes will affect around 300 Southern employees.

While the rail company says there not be any compulsory job losses as it introduces the new role, its plans have proven unpopular with the rail unions RMT and ASLEF, who say the changes will impact passenger and staff safety.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said, “RMT, supported by our ASLEF colleagues, is wholly opposed to the attack on the safety-critical conductor grades and the threat of Driver Only Operation. Our members on Southern GTR have given loyal and professional service to the company and are being rewarded by being forced into a new grade, having their role and responsibility reduced and their hard-earned terms and conditions attacked.

“The anger at the threat to RMT members’ jobs, their role and the safety of Southern services is reflected in this massive vote for action which will now be considered by our executive.

“This company has already axed catering services, threatened ticket offices and delivered appalling levels of customer service in their drive to milk these routes for every penny they can regardless of the impact on safety, reliability and quality. It is no wonder they are the most hated rail franchise in Britain and the threat to the conductors is just another twist of the knife. These trains are desperately over-crowded and the conductors are the eyes and ears preventing a major tragedy on the platforms and carriages.

“RMT’s demands could not be clearer and the union remains available for meaningful talks.”

Southern Rail disputes the union’s claims, saying there is no evidence services without conductors are less safe and saying that the union has refused requests to discuss the new role.

A spokesman for Southern Rail said, “We operate 2,000 services per day that do not have conductors on board - 60 per cent of our total number of trains. There is no evidence whatsoever that these services are any less safe. All we are doing is evolving the role of the conductor to one which is more visible to passengers and able to offer improved customer service. As many trains will be staffed as they are today.

“There will be no compulsory job losses. We have been forced to make the current role of conductor redundant (on services that do not require the conductor to operate train doors), but the nature of the process means that by offering a suitable alternative role, there is no need for anyone to lose their job.

“We would much rather not go down this route, but given that the union refuses to discuss the proposed new role with us, we have no option but to take this action and offer our people the alternative role of On-Board Supervisor.”

A conductor who will be affected by the changes wrote to the Herald this week. He said, “It beggars belief that in a time when passenger safety should be of the highest level that these cost cutting methods of running a business should take place.

“Any person who has travelled by rail will understand the conductor’s role, from safe train dispatch, to customer care, help, support and safety when travelling at all hours. The security level present at airports and railways is currently at the highest it has ever been and passenger assaults and injuries are increasing across the rail network as staffing levels are decreased.”

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