THE RMT has announced four more strikes on Northern in January.
The news of more industrial action in the long-running dispute over on-train staffing has come hard on the heels of a letter from Northern to ACAS, which calls for the conciliation service to use its powers to set up an independent inquiry.
When the RMT strikes on Saturday (22 December) it will be the 41st walkout since March 2017. Another strike on 29 December and four more in the New Year will have taken the total to 46 by the end of January.
Northern said the inquiry would look at the duties of a second member of staff on board its trains. There would also be an examination of the feasibility of Driver Controlled Operation, in which the driver has full control of the train, including the doors.
The inquiry would have an independent chair and panel members, and contributions would be invited from any interested parties.
Richard Allan, Northern’s deputy managing director, said: ‘The RMT dispute means customers, businesses and the wider economy in the North have suffered the cost of 40 days of RMT strikes, including every Saturday in September, October, November and now December. Customers, employers and colleagues are looking for both parties to resolve the dispute.
‘More than 50 per cent of all rail journeys are made on driver-controlled trains and recently the Department for Transport and Transport for the North publicly confirmed that a second person – in addition to the driver – would be retained on Northern services.
‘This second person will provide customer service, including meeting customer needs on accessibility, safety, security, ticketing and information. Despite this, the RMT continues with its strike action.
‘We call on RMT to join us in committing to the inquiry and suspending its industrial action whilst the inquiry takes place. This would demonstrate commitment from both sides to try and resolve the issues, reassuring customers and stakeholders that every endeavour is being made by both sides.’
Existing conductors have been promised that they will continue to work on board trains until 2025 at least, and that their pay will be protected. The present starting salary for conductors is £28,250 a year.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash has described the idea of an inquiry as a ‘PR stunt’.
He continued: ‘We have not seen any proposals from Northern Rail whatsoever that would make serious progress in terms of resolving the dispute. The company are seeking to kick the issue of rail safety into the long grass indefinitely rather than facing up to the fundamental issue of the guard guarantee on their trains and there is no way that RMT will allow them to get away with this chicanery.
‘The answer to resolving this dispute is not an inquiry but meaningful negotiations. However, not only is the government working behind the scenes to block such negotiations but it is wilfully using taxpayers’ money to bail out Northern Rail for revenues lost as a result of strike action, meaning the company have no financial incentive whatsoever to settle.’
The new strikes are set to take place on 5, 12, 19 and 26 January.