STRIKE action over the Christmas period by workers at two train companies was announced yesterday as a bitter dispute over guards and safety intensified.
The 24-hour walkouts by Greater Anglia staff on Wednesday December 27 and South Western Railway on New Year’s Eve were revealed by the RMT union followed a breakdown in talks.
An attempt by RMT to resolve the rail dispute with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Rail Minister Paul Maynard also fell through amid “contradictory messages, confusion and lack of clarity,” the union said.
On the one hand, the union’s representatives were told at the meeting that the government was not opposed to retaining a second crew member on the train and it was up to the RMT and employers
to come to an agreement.
However, within an hour of the meeting finishing, the union received a “contradictory letter” from Mr Grayling asking it to accept the principle of driver-only operation.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Astonishingly, I have also been made aware that Chris Grayling has written to the train companies with the same letter.
“It really should be straightforward. The Scottish and Welsh governments have agreed to keep the guards on our trains, so there is no reason why the UK government cannot as well.”
Mr Cash has written to Mr Grayling to express concern about the government’s lack of clarity as well as offering further talks.
He complained that there was “chaos and confusion” in the rail industry over the government’s position, which was making it “almost impossible” to negotiate.
The RMT leader added: “It’s the continuing failure of the train companies and their political puppet masters in government to make any attempt whatsoever to resolve these disputes over rail safety that has led us to call action today and the responsibility for the disruption that will be caused lies fairly and squarely at their door.”
Both South Western Railway and Greater Anglia issued statements expressing “disappointment” after the strike action was announced.
Similar disputes over driver-only operation are continuing on Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North. Merseyrail workers are due to take strike action on December 22.