ASLEF has this morning (17 January) offered to suspend industrial action on Southern Railways - if the company agrees to new talks hosted by Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.
Train drivers are due to walk out for three days next week, in the ongoing dispute over the introduction of driver-only operations across the network. Both ASLEF and the RMT Union believe the move to be putting passenger safety at risk, whilst Southern say it is just modernising the system and insist it is safe.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, 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, and 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.”
The Union has also accepted the Department for Transport’s request for Andy Meadows, HR Director at Abellio, to co-chair the talks. Mick Whelan said, “We accept the choice of Andy Meadows as co-chair. We want talks to get underway as soon as possible.”
In response, 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.”
Pevensey & Westham MP Huw Merriman has taken to Twitter to say he welcomes the talks in ‘a fresh format’ and is calling for both sides to ‘unlock the door on a resolution’.
Polegate MP Maria Caulfield has tweeted, “News starting to break that Southern strikes called off. Let's hope that is true for all passengers and constituents.”
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell has taken to Facebook to say she is “very pleased to see that the ASLEF drivers rail strike for next week has been suspended.”