The dispute between Southern Rail and the RMT Union continues to darken, as further strike action threatens Eastbourne commuters next week.
For months both sides have pointed the finger of blame at the other when it comes to service disruptions and cancellations.
Govia Thameslink Rail, which runs Southern, have this week said they plan to press ahead with the introduction of driver-only trains from the end of August, but that’s not stopped conductors with the RMT Union from again downing tools next Tuesday (21 June) to protest against the changes, which would see their role changed to ‘on board supervisors’. The Union claims this will have a detrimental effect on passenger safety, but GTR say driver-only trains are already tried and tested, work sufficiently well in other parts of the country.
Staff sickness levels have also been a focus in recent weeks, with dozens of services delayed or cancelled daily. Southern have repeatedly said it is conductor sickness and also at times, driver sickness.
In an attempt to disprove these claims, the RMT Union has today (16 June), released 33 examples of what it claims are proof that GTR are cancelling trains and blaming ‘staff shortages’ when a full crew has been available. These have been gathered via a private hotline set up for Union members.
These include as stated by the RMT:
‘The 1703 Eastbourne to Brighton service on Tuesday 14 was announced as cancelled due to “staff shortages” as it left the station with a complete crew and full of passengers. On route, station staff said to the crew, “we've been told you’re cancelled and I've been telling everyone.”’
‘On Friday 8 June, a Southern train broke down in Hastings causing the cancellation of the 0542 train from Hastings to Eastbourne, the cancellation of the 0702 train from Eastbourne to Hastings and the 0738 Hastings to Eastbourne. These were advertised on the Customer Information Service as cancelled due to conductor sickness. The conductor and driver were both there but their train had failed.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT is sick and tired of Govia Thameslink, backed up by Tory transport minister Claire Perry, peddling a pack of lies and trying to blame staff for cancellations and disruption which are down to the company itself. This research blows apart that campaign of dirty tricks.
“There is no "unofficial action" on Southern. The staff shortages are down to gross mismanagement of staffing numbers, rosters and diagrams by the company on this basket case franchise and our hotline information now proves that services are being axed even when staff are available.
“Trying to lump the blame onto hard-working, frontline staff, who take the full force of passenger anger for cancellations and delays, is cowardly and despicable behaviour by this failing, rip-off GTR outfit and their cheerleaders in the Government.
“Luckily, no one believes a word that comes out of this company and their dirty-tricks department. This is a franchise in meltdown, propped up by a Government bending the contract penalty rules to keep GTR afloat. Govia should be slung out immediately with the publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways swung in to try and sort out this shambles.”
Eastbourne Buzz has approached Govia Thameslink Rail about these latest allegations from the RMT. A spokesperson has said, “There is absolutely no incentive for us to cancel trains unnecessarily – we are fined heavily every time this happens. Some of these spurious examples can be explained by missing train crew causing an earlier cancellation but with so much disruption, genuine mistakes are also bound to be made when telling our passengers what is going on.
“The simple fact is sickness levels among conductors are very high. Driver sickness has also risen at certain depots – at one the latest weekly rate is almost double the average for the previous two months. This, combined with a reluctance now by drivers at some locations to work overtime on top of their standard four-day working week, is leaving us with a shortfall of train crew.
“The RMT can argue about this all they like. Our focus is on restoring the service we give our passengers. That cannot be achieved by unnecessary strikes, only by sensible dialogue.”
With more disruption expected during next week’s strike, Southern are advising passengers to check their journeys in advance. Many services will be altered or cancelled, including the Eastbourne to Ashford International service via Hastings will now start at Warrior Square, there will be no trains between Lewes and Seaford and there will be limited services between Eastbourne and Brighton.