After some months of good progress on Southern, the latest industrial action from Aslef has hit services hard in recent days. It is completely unacceptable. Yet again the union’s unnecessary strike action is hurting passengers and causing huge disruption.
Since 29 June ASLEF, the union which represents train drivers, has been operating a train driver’s overtime ban. This means that drivers are only working a 4 day week (the 5th is considered “overtime” and is therefore voluntary) – which is preventing Southern from running around a quarter of their services. The Secretary of State ordered GTR/Southern Rail to recruit more drivers last year. They have been complying with this, and new drivers are coming on stream all the time, but it takes time to recruit and train new drivers.
As the independent Gibb report stated – “the RMT and ASLEF leadership… are the primary cause for the system integrity to fail, by taking strike action… declining to work overtime and generally not supporting and undermining the system integrity.”
Aslef has refused offers from negotiations three times now. Most recently they have been offered a pay increase of 25 percent, from £51,000 to £63,000 for a 4 day week – or around £75,000 for a 5 day week – in order to resolve this dispute, yet ASLEF is still refusing. There is no excuse for ASLEF to have refused such a generous offer – especially given that they have already accepted a very similar offer on Thameslink services.
They have also cited the introduction of Driver Operated Doors, which happened back in January, as a further reason to strike claiming there are safety issues if the driver (instead of the conductor) operates the door. There is no safety issue. 30% of all UK surface trains use Driver Operated Doors, going back to 1984. Most continental European trains use Driver Operated Doors and all of London Underground operates this way on far more crowded platforms perfectly safely.
The introduction of Driver Operated Doors has not entailed any pay cuts or job losses, and all trains scheduled to have two staff (Driver plus Conductor/“On Board Supervisor”) will continue to do so. However, if the conductor fails to show up because they are late, sick or on strike then the train can still run. This is the real reason the Unions don’t like it – because conductor strikes cannot now shut down the railway, thereby reducing the Union’s power to hold the company and passengers to ransom.
This is not to absolve GTR/Southern Rail of all blame. The service they provide even on days without any strike action is well below the levels that passengers should expect and I believe that their franchise should be broken up. I have also secured major investments to be made into the line, including a £300 million programme of track and point improvements (in line with the Gibb report) that are now underway and hopefully a further £1 billion in the future to end the effects that pinch points like East Croydon and Windmill Junction have on services. You can read more on this here – http://www.chrisphilp.com/blog.asp?BlogID=87.
I call on ASLEF to end their damaging refusal to work a 5 day week, and accept the very generous 25% pay increase drivers have been offered, which takes them up to £63,000 for a 4 day week or around £75,000 for a 5 day week.