UK RMT Rail workers to walk out for 48 hours this week

UK RMT Rail workers to walk out for 48 hours this week
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/07/rail-workers-to-walk-out...
RMT members to strike on Wednesday and Thursday, with South Western Railway affected for first time
South Western Railway
South Western Railway is affected by the dispute over the future of guards on trains for the first time. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA
Gwyn Topham
@GwynTopham
Tuesday 7 November 2017 17.55 GMT
Rail strikes over the future of guards on trains will disrupt services across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, with one of Britain’s busiest commuter franchises, South Western Railway, affected for the first time.

Members of the RMT union will walk out for 48 hours on South Western, Greater Anglia and Southern trains, while Merseyrail and Northern will see strikes only on Wednesday as a row over guards that started on the Southern route last yearripples around the UK.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has accused the RMT union of lying over the reasons for the action, while Labour has informed train operators it would halt any plans to remove guards.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Grayling accused the RMT of “calling political strikes over things that aren’t actually happening”. He said: “It’s difficult not to see the threat from Sean Hoyle, president of the RMT, to have a ‘quasi-national rail strike just like 1911 all over again’ to ‘bring down this working class hating Tory government’ as the real reason for the action.”

But the RMT warned that the possibility of driver-only trains on South Western would discriminate against older and disabled passengers, with around 70% of the stations on the network left unstaffed. Mick Cash, the general secretary, said: “We have already had concerns raised with us that de-staffing trains will increase the risk of crime and antisocial behaviour.

“Now we know that 140 – or seven out of 10 – of South Western’s stations are unstaffed … Protection for disabled and older people will be ripped up as there will no longer be the guarantee of a guard and instead the profits of the company will take priority over the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.”

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South Western, like Northern and Greater Anglia, has said it has no plans to remove guards – but the RMT says the firms will not provide guarantees, while new trains entering service could be operated by a driver alone. Southern has rebranded guards as onboard supervisors and downgraded their safety role.

Labour has written to the rail operators facing strikes this week to tell them that the party would stop plans to remove more guards from trains if it wins power. The shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said in a letter that guards are “vital” for safety and to ensure accessibility for passengers who need assistance. He wrote: “I also wish to advise you that an incoming Labour government will stop plans for any future roll-out of driver-only operation across the rail industry. We will examine the full range of options to realise this objective.”

Services on South Western have been disrupted already this week due to a series of problems, including the partial derailment of a train at Wimbledon on Monday. The RMT pointed to the incident as underlining the importance of guards. Cash added: “These strikes are about rail safety and accessibility pure and simple. It was the guard on that train who safely evacuated 300 passengers in an emergency situation.”

South Western, which operates into Britain’s busiest railway station, London Waterloo, expects to run around 60% of its normal train service during the strike. It has warned passengers to expect much more crowded trains, while rail replacement buses will operate in parts of the network.

Greater Anglia and Southern are expecting to run a near-normal service, although Southern anticipates worse crowding than usual on routes near South Western stations. Merseyrail and Northern will cancel early morning and evening services, but intend to run most trains between 7am and 7pm.