South Western Railway (SWR) workers today began a 27-day strike – thought to be the longest in the history of the railways.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union decided to go ahead with the strike after failing to come to an agreement with SWR over the role of guards on trains. The union said the strike was “in defence of passenger safety”.
RMT has claimed that SWR refused to move on its stance during talks with conciliation service Acas.
The union argues that guards should look after the operation of doors on trains and carry out other safety functions, and has previously accused the company of “carving up” the role of the guard and stripping it of any safety responsibilities.
In a statement to passengers, SWR said: “We have been talking to the RMT about the best method of operation for our new trains for at least two years both with, and without, Acas, to try and find a solution. Indeed, just this week we met to try and avert these strikes from going ahead.
“We have promised that we will keep a guard on every train and that our guards will have a safety critical role. Both things the RMT has been asking for, so these strikes are unnecessary.
“All we are asking for is for our guards to work with us to bring in our new suburban trains, which our estimates show could mean more than 10 million more passenger journeys arriving on-time in peak hours every year.”
The strikes will run from today (2 December) until Wednesday 11 December, followed by further strike days from 13 December to 24 December, and from 27 December to 1 January.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said its members were “angry and frustrated” that SWR has not guaranteed a safety-critical role for guards.
He said: “There is no rational explanation for the company position and we can only assume that either they or their paymasters in government wanted this strike action to go ahead for politically motivated purposes.
“The union believes that cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them all together at some point down the line. The stakes could not be higher.”
Cash added that SWR was “spending a fortune mobilising an army of under-trained and potentially dangerous contingency guards” and urged the company to re-enter negotiations.