A deal between train drivers’ union ASLEF and Southern over the introduction of driver-only operation has been struck.
Govia Thameslink Railway is in the process of rolling out DOO on Southern services, which means drivers will be responsible for opening and closing train doors, with conductors transferred to the role of on-board supervisors.
Both ASLEF and the RMT union, which represents conductors, have raised safety concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on trains.
Strikes by ASLEF in December and January led to the complete shutdown of the Southern network for several days, but it suspended walkouts planned for late last month to allow for talks to resume, hosted by the Trades Union Congress.
An agreement has been reached and ASLEF members will now be balloted on the deal.
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: “I welcome this agreement which is a significant step forward in addressing the safety concerns of ASLEF members on Southern Rail.
“ASLEF has never been against changes to working methods. Rather we believe any changes should be negotiated through agreed procedures. I am confident this deal can provide a safer and appropriately staffed railway for passengers on Southern Rail and I will be recommending it to our members.”
Nick Brown, GTR’s chief operating officer, said: “Our aim has always been to reach agreement with the unions on our proposals and we’re delighted to have secured a deal today with ASLEF to end their dispute.
“It’s good news for passengers, the regional economy and staff. After the misery and disruption to people’s work and family lives, we are pleased we can start to move forward and deliver a better railway for the travelling public.”
Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley said: “Drivers and passengers will welcome the agreement that will be voted on by ASLEF members.
“I expect that drivers’ representatives have been assured that modern safety equipment will be available.
“Now, I ask Frances O’Grady and the TUC to help RMT to settle their dispute.
“Everyone knows the train staff have signed contracts to work helping passengers and that the same number of employees will be rostered. Everyone knows it is time the deliberate disruption ends.
“Then the remaining problems will be the unreliability of trains, the railway and signalling.”
Baroness Jenny Randerson, Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson, said: “It is welcome news for passengers that ASLEF have reached an agreement with Southern – hopefully passengers will begin to see a more reliable service and better value for money.
“The dispute with the RMT continues to rumble on and this leaves passengers in the dark over when they may receive a consistent service.
“This agreement doesn’t change the fact that we have a failed franchise running a service that has made miseries of the lives of thousands of commuters. It is time the government acted.”
Lewes MP Maria Caulfield added: “I am both pleased and rather relieved that the two sides have been able to reach this agreement, and thank both sides for working constructively with one another to do so.
“Today’s announcement will come as welcome news for many thousands of my constituents, giving peace of mind that when they turn up to catch a train to work, school or an appointment, they can expect to reach their destination.
“Of course, I fully understand that vast improvements are still needed, and this is exactly what I set out to ministers during my Adjournment Debate on the subject in Parliament on the 20th January.”
“I would also like to again call on both Southern and the RMT to get back around the table so that they too can begin to work towards a resolution.”
Meanwhile Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for transport, said:“This is great news. At long last an agreement has been reached. While the full details are yet to emerge, it is essential that any safety concerns have been comprehensively addressed and resolved.
“Sadly, trust between Southern management and the workforce has reached an all-time low, but hopefully this agreement marks the beginning of a more inclusive way of conducting industrial relations in the future.
“Southern’s long suffering passengers will be delighted at this news, but equally they need to see the appalling standards of service, which they have endured for far too long, greatly improve, and do so quickly.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport added: “The DfT welcomes the news that an agreement has been reached between ASLEF and Southern Rail.
“We are grateful to all parties for their efforts to find a positive way forward.”
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