THE long-running dispute between the RMT and Merseyrail over whether guards should still be carried on all trains appears to have ended, after a provisional agreement was announced that will allow for a second member of staff on all trains. However, funding uncertainties continue and talks will have to go on for some time yet.
Merseyrail had been planning to introduce mostly driver-only operation on its new fleet, although it had said that a second member of staff would be carried on busy trains or late at night, and its plans triggered a series of strikes.
After long talks at ACAS, Merseyrail has now agreed to extend this level of staffing to all trains, ‘subject to the provision and approval of an appropriate, affordable and sustainable funding package’. The driver is still set to control the doors and dispatch the train, because the replacement rolling stock will not include a guard’s position.
Merseyrail has warned that ‘additional funding will now need to be generated’ to make the extra staffing possible.
Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Steve Rotheram said: “I am pleased that we are agreeing in principle that there will be a second member of staff on board the train when the new, state-of-the-art Merseyrail fleet is fully in place in 2021.
“I have always believed that the only way this dispute would be resolved was by all sides sitting down and talking. That’s why I pushed for Merseyrail and the RMT to enter ACAS talks last year and I’m pleased that this approach has got us to where we are today.”
However, he added: “I also want to be clear that it requires a significant financial commitment and hard choices on all sides. This has to be kept in mind alongside the reality of the substantial reductions in funding that Merseytravel will receive from government over the next ten years.
“I believe this agreement gives us the best chance to successfully deliver and operate the new fleet of trains and therefore is in the best interests of the people of the Liverpool City Region. We will now complete the detailed work to explore and hopefully identify the affordable funding package needed to gain a final agreement.”
Merseyrail managing director Andy Heath said: “The commitment from the RMT to continue the suspension of industrial action during this review period will undoubtedly help maintain the continuity of the current phase of ACAS conciliation which will allow us to plan our operational delivery around the major programme of Merseyrail platform modifications and the major events between now and the end of the year. During this phase of conciliation we will continue our engagement with both the Combined Authority and the RMT as we explore the feasibility and affordability of a solution to keeping a second person on the new trains.”
The provisional settlement has been welcomed by the RMT, The union is still engaged in related disputes with Northern and South Western Railway, whose services are continuing to be disrupted by strikes.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said it was an ‘important and significant development’. He continued: "I want to pay tribute to RMT members for their resilience and solidarity throughout this campaign.
"We now await a fully-formed and detailed set of proposals that we can take back to our Executive and our members."