The RMT have been locked in a bitter dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) over its plans to bring in on-board supervisors, with union members holding five walkouts already this year.
Another 14 days of strikes have been planned in five different weeks between now and Christmas, with the first-three day walkout starting tomorrow (Tuesday October 11).
Talks to resolve the dispute ended last week between the two sides, but according to national reports RMT general secretary Mick Cash has written to its members urging them to volunteer for the new on-board supervisor roles.
But the union has hit back at the rail operator for launching a formal legal challenge to stop the strikes.
Charles Horton, chief executive officer at GTR, said: “It is welcome that the RMT has finally seen sense and recommended their members take the excellent roles on offer.
“They reject an offer one day, tell conductors to sign up to the role the next, but then still issue a clarion call to strike about it a few days later.
“Their own union has lost them each a £2,000 bonus which was on offer last Thursday only to tell them to sign-up 24 hours later. Their mandate, like their position on this six months old dispute, is built on quicksand.
“Now to go ahead with these strikes just days after telling conductors to accept our offer sets new standards in union militancy. They don’t care that hundreds of thousands of commuters will face yet more travel misery this week; it’s clear this is all about the union trying to hang on to power and control.
“We’re guaranteeing a job till 2021 and no loss of pay or overtime. Our aim is to modernise our operations to give passengers better customer service with a dedicated second safety-trained member of staff working each and every train where we currently have a conductor and the driver in sole control operating the train.
“I urge them to call off what is a pointless and unnecessary dispute, as it always has been.”
But Mr Cash said: “RMT can confirm the receipt of a formal legal challenge from Southern Rail in the guards safety dispute.
“It is appalling that rather than sitting down with us at ACAS today to seek a resolution the company have chosen to run to the courts under the cloak of the anti-union laws.
“The union intends to continue with the planned action and is examining the details of the paperwork. We will issue a further statement in due course.”
On national reports he has told guards to accept the new role, Mr Cash added: ”Despite the company spin today there is no climb down from the union. Our dispute remains on and the fight for safety continues.
“We have a duty to issue our members with clear legal advice that protects their position in the teeth of the threat of mass sackings. That is what we have done.
“The union offered to bring ACAS in at the talks at the back end last week in an effort to close the gap between the two sides and to reach a negotiated settlement. GTR turned that down flat but the offer still stands. The union is geared up and ready for those talks on Monday.”
A spokesman for Southern said: “On Friday the RMT told their conductor members to accept a deal, and then tomorrow they plan to strike against it.
“It is a situation which will leave our passengers baffled. We have written to the RMT about the validity of their dispute in light of recent developments. We await their response and will consider all possible options to stop the strike and that includes a legal challenge.”
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