England

RMT union hits out at Southern 'lies' about staff sickness

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption The union said the problem was staff shortages rather than staff sickness

Southern Railways' claim staff sickness has forced cancellations puts workers at risk of attacks, a union said.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union said all it would take is for one passenger to buy into the "company lies" for a major incident to occur.

Last week, Southern said one-in-six conductors had gone sick in a month, following strike action in April.

It has not responded to the RMT's claim, re-stating the problem was causing disruption to services.

The rail operator claimed the rate of absence had more than doubled since the first strike over the role of guards on 26 April.

'Failing franchise'

It said an average of 83 Southern services were being cancelled each day because of sickness problems.

In a letter to Southern Railways, Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: "I am appalled at the totally inflammatory way you are treating your staff", saying workers had complained of bullying and harassment.

This "grossly irresponsible attitude amounts to incitement and leaves lone-workers and women particularly vulnerable", he added.

He said problems with the service were down to "staff shortages created by a failure to recruit enough workers to fill new rosters."

"Luckily, the vast majority of passengers don't believe a word that this company says," continued Mr Cash.

"They know full well what this failing franchise is all about."

'Higher levels of absence'

Last week, Southern said that in the two weeks prior to the first strike, conductor sickness absence ran at an average of 23 conductors off sick each day.

It said that since the strike, the number had nearly doubled to 40 conductors off sick each day.

"Passengers deserve to know the reasons behind the unusually high level of train cancellations they are presently experiencing," it said.

"We are experiencing much higher than usual levels of conductor absence through sickness... This has meant that over the last month, regrettably, we have had to cancel some of our services."

In his letter, Mr Cash urged Southern to stop the attacks and engage with the union to resolve the dispute.

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