UPDATE: Southern train drivers suspend strike action

Southern train drivers have suspended strike action after rail bosses agreed to fresh talks.

Southern passengers have faced almost constant delays since early 2016
Southern passengers have faced almost constant delays since early 2016

Union ASLEF is locked in a dispute with rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway over plans to introduce driver-only operation on Southern services, which would see drivers opening and closing train doors.

ASLEF, along with the RMT union, have raised safety concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on trains.

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Currently the RMT is set to strike on Monday January 23, while ASLEF were due to hold walkouts on Tuesday January 24, Wednesday January 25, and Friday January 27.

The proposed talks would be hosted by Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and Andy Meadows, HR director at Abellio UK.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “I am today proposing a new process to try and find a resolution to our industrial dispute with Southern Rail.

“We propose that ASLEF and Southern engage in intensive talks under the auspices of the TUC as soon as possible.

“Given the implications of this dispute for the wider railway industry, I am also asking the Secretary of State for Transport to support this new process.

“ASLEF believes that the best way to resolve the dispute at Southern is for all parties to engage in meaningful talks without preconditions - aimed at finding an agreed way forward.”

In a joint statement, Ms O’Grady and Abellio UK HR director Andy Meadows, said: “We are committed to finding a fair solution to this dispute. We are pleased that all parties have agreed to meet for meaningful talks.”

Charles Horton, chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We’ve always made clear our willingness to engage in meaningful talks with ASLEF to find a route forward to end their dispute.

“So, together with our passengers and businesses, we warmly welcome their decision to suspend next week’s planned industrial action.

“This is an important and significant development for the travelling public and the regional economy and our focus and efforts now will be on productive talks with the union and trying to find a solution and a way forward. We are grateful to Frances O’Grady and Andy Meadows for agreeing to chair jointly this important new round of talks and they have our unequivocal endorsement and support.”

Baroness Jenny Randerson, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, said: “The suspension of these strikes will come as relief to passengers, but this is no victory.

“Long suffering commuters deserve better than to be at the mercy of this never-ending dispute, unable to plan their daily lives. The next threat of strike action will be coming down the line.”

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