FIVE train operators are set to be affected by strikes this week, starting from today, but the RMT wants a summit to held over the vexed question of driver-operated trains.
The union continues to be in dispute over existing or future plans to change the role of a second staff member on trains.
The operators are Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, Northern and South Western Railway, where walkouts are scheduled for today, Wednesday and Friday, while a further strike has been called on Southern for today only.
Southern, which has now been hit by almost 40 daily strikes in the RMT dispute over driver-only (or driver-controlled) operation, said it expected to run nine trains out of 10.
Merseyrail has previously been seriously affected by the RMT strikes, with no early or late trains and no service at all on some lines, but on the operator has appealed for fresh talks. In a message addressed to RMT regional organiser John Tilley, Merseyrail asked for the action to be suspended while negotiations restarted.
In a statement, Merseyrail said: “We would not be proposing DCO if it did not fully comply with all of the UK national rail standards and regulations. As well as being modern and state of the art trains, the advanced technology available through the design of the new trains means that we no longer require the role of a guard.”
Merseyrail managing director Andy Heath added: “These three days of strike action demonstrates the RMT’s disregard for the impact their actions have on our passengers and damage to the economy of the city region. Since the last meeting with the RMT there have been eight strike days with the RMT steadfastly refusing to accept all attempts to get round the table. Both passengers and business leaders are saying to us that this is enough and now is the time for talks.”
The Rail Delivery Group also defended the changes. Chief executive Paul Plummer said: “The partnership railway is working together with a plan to change and improve so we can do more for our customers and the businesses and communities we serve. That’s why we are making the long-lasting improvements that today’s RMT strike is about. Working together we will minimise the impact of the RMT strikes and find a way through this dispute.”
However RMT general secretary Mick Cash insisted that while the strikes are going ahead, the RMT is also ready to resume talks.
He said: “Every single effort that RMT has made to reach negotiated settlements in these separate disputes with the different train operating companies over safe operation and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces and we are left with no option but to press ahead with the action exactly as planned. No one should be in any doubt, these disputes are about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies
“RMT is in no doubt that it is the dead hand of the minority Tory Government that is interfering in these disputes and that their influence is a factor in preventing the union from reaching negotiated settlements. With the fare increases kicking in it is outrageous that Theresa May and Chris Grayling are happy to stand aside and cheer on overseas rail companies that rip-off the British passenger with eye-watering far increases to subsidise their domestic transport operations while throwing the guards off our trains.
“RMT is demanding that the blockade on talks is lifted in these separate disputes to allow us to negotiate freely with the companies.”
The TUC has backed the RMT’s call for a summit.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The way to resolve any dispute is through talks. We urge the government to respond positively to the RMT’s proposal for a summit involving the RMT, relevant companies and the Department for Transport.”