Eastbourne commuters could be in for a reprieve from strike action on the trains.
ASLEF has had to cancel its ballot of Southern drivers only a day after it started, rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway confirmed.
The rail operator was informed at the weekend by union officials that the industrial action ballot of Southern's train drivers, which only started on Friday (November 4), has been called off for ‘technical’ reasons.
Commenting, Angie Doll, Southern's Passenger Services Director, said, "We're pleased that ASLEF has called off this ballot. This welcome development gives us the time and opportunity to sit down with union officials to resolve their dispute."
Southern has also announced that 215 conductors - 96 per cent - have signed up to the new On-Board Supervisor role (OBS) and will now take up the new role in January, which focuses exclusively on customer service and moves the operation of closing doors to the driver. They had until 4 November to respond to Southern's deadline for agreeing to transfer to the new job. A further 222 people will remain in their existing roles as conductors on certain Southern services.
The train company says it will be also recruiting a further 100 OBS roles to work across Southern and Gatwick Express services and an advertising campaign will launch later this week.
GTR, Southern's parent company, has also confirmed that its formal offer to the RMT to settle the dispute, which has been on the table for three months, has now been formally withdrawn and a letter confirming this was sent to Mick Cash, General Secretary of the union, last Friday. GTR had warned the union at the beginning of last week that the offer would be revoked if they went ahead with any further strike action.
The union is planning another 11 days of strikes by conductors, including walkouts lasting from Thursday 22 December until Christmas Eve and then again from New Year’s Eve until Monday 2 January.
Southern has now ‘implored’ the union ‘to see sense and bring an end to this soap opera of strikes’.
Angie Doll commented, "We've now got over 200 conductors signed up to the new on-board role and over the last two sets of strikes nearly a third of conductors turned up for work, disproving the union's claims that support is rock solid. Drivers having sole control of the train has been shown over decades of operation to be entirely safe and 15 years of research by independent rail safety experts corroborates this. We'll have a second member of safety-trained staff on more trains than we do today so the RMT's arguments are baseless and vacuous.
"The union leadership has stooped to a new low by calling strike dates over the Christmas period and we know of some conductors who have now resigned their union membership over this selfish, shameful and spiteful act. The union's leadership is maintaining a clear and blatant disregard for workers, families, the elderly and the disabled seeking to be with loved ones over the holiday season. It's a time for Santa and mistletoe, not strikes and misery. The union must think again about their vindictive desire to see Christmas cancelled for the travelling public.
"These past eight months of strikes have had a profound effect on both passengers and our staff. The travelling public is sick and tired of the continuing disruption to their lives and are very angry, and rightly so. But I'd ask them to consider the very difficult position that many employees have been put in during these strikes. A large number have defied the picket line to work during the strikes and many others that join the strikes do so under significant peer pressure and with great reluctance. The public are now seeing through the union facade and recognise that this saga is all about them hanging on to outdated working practices and power. These strikes are utterly pointless and have to stop and stop now, for everyone's sake.”