MP calls on rail unions to drop "selfish and disruptive" industrial action
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has welcomed news that the RMT have now called off their strike for Thursday and Friday and agreed to enter into talks with GTR/Southern at ACAS again saying: "In my view, the unions should drop their selfish and disruptive action altogether and reach a sensible agreement with the company."
Responding to the five day strike called by the RMT this week, the MP rejects the union’s claim that the introduction of trains with driver-only operated doors will jeopardise safety, pointing out that “60 per cent of GTR’s trains already have driver-only operated doors, as does the entire London Underground and a third of the national network.”
GTR/Southern this week improved their offer to the RMT, who have already been assured that there will be no job losses or pay reductions, and that most trains which currently have a guard will still have another member of staff on the train.
In an update to his constituents, Mr Herbert says that the performance of GTR/Southern has been unacceptable for over a year, often due to problems with the track or signalling, but that the service is currently “abysmal” due to industrial action.
The MP says that as well as strikes, unofficial ‘work to rule’ over a period of months is causing a “catastrophic reduction in staff availability”, with multiple train delays and cancellations. Since the dispute began in May, driver ‘sickness’ rates have increased by a third, while their availability to work overtime has reduced by a third.
Mr Herbert says: “It appears that the dispute is part of a wider resistance by the unions to rail modernisation across the network. Just 303 guards voted for industrial action, causing the disruption of hundreds of trains a day over an extended period. I do not think that passengers should be forced to suffer as a result.”
The MP says that he wants “to consider whether the actions of a small number of staff should be capable of so easily disrupting an important public service”.
Mr Herbert also argues that the GTR/Southern franchise is too big, and that the option of removing it should remain if the company fails to deliver performance improvements once normal staffing is resumed. He calls for a review of the system of rail franchises to make operators “more accountable and responsive to passengers”.
He also says that while “restoring a decent and reliable performance on GTR/Southern routes is clearly the immediate priority … longer term capacity and infrastructure issues must also now be addressed.”
Mr Herbert says: “Railway lines in the South have suffered from decades of underinvestment while passenger numbers have soared. The Brighton line in particular is now at capacity; there are choke points higher up the line which affect the Arun Valley services too, and the infrastructure obviously cannot cope. This means that the slightest disruption often has severe knock-on effects across the timetable.
“There has been significant investment at London Bridge, which will increase capacity in due course (though the full benefit will not be realised until the end of 2018), and signalling upgrades on the Arun Valley line. However, I believe we now need to make the case for further major infrastructure improvement.”
Over the past year Mr Herbert has called numerous parliamentary debates on the performance of GTR/Southern, and has met ministers, GTR/Southern and Network Rail senior executives and union leaders to discuss the problems. He met the new Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP, before the Commons rose for its summer recess to discuss the current disruption to services.
Mr Herbert has also joined forces with Mid-Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames and Hove MP Peter Kyle to form a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Southern. The group aims to provide a focus for MPs’ concerns about poor service on GTR/Southern routes.
The MP says that dealing with the problems on GTR/Southern routes is a priority. “I am sorry that are no easy answers or simple solutions, and I know that many of my constituents are deeply frustrated by the apparent lack of progress in resolving the situation. However, I can assure you that I have raised your concerns forcefully with ministers, officials, GTR/Southern and Network Rail’s senior management, and trade union leaders. I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that your concerns are heard and that the rail service improves.”
1. To read Nick’s update on GTR/Southern see http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/842/nicks-update- on-gtr- southern-rail- service.
2. To see a list of Nick’s actions on GTR/Southern, together with letters from Ministers and GTR/Southern, see http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/836/southern-railway- nicks-actions.
3. To see GTR/Southern’s latest offer to the RMT see http://www.southernrailway.com/southern/news/southern-reveals-8-point-offer-to-settle-strike-and-urges-fresh-talks-with-rmt/.