England

Southern rail conductor row: Acas hosts talks with managers and union

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption The dispute is over a new on-board supervisor role and plans for drivers to operate doors

Southern rail and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union have resumed talks with conciliation service Acas to settle a row over driver-only trains.

Relations have plummeted during the dispute, with each party blaming the other for service cancellations.

Southern's owner, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), and the RMT will meet Acas again next week to try to resolve the row over the role of conductors.

The union said passenger safety would be threatened if drivers operate doors.

An Acas spokesman said the two parties met on Monday and would resume talks next week.

In the latest sign of continuing deterioration between the company and unions, the RMT said Southern was deliberately cancelling services and blaming staff sickness - a claim the company described as "ludicrous".

The RMT said it had a dossier of evidence to back its claims and it was "sick and tired" of bearing the blame for what it claimed is GTR's mismanagement.

'Sickness increase'

GTR is currently cancelling up to 90 services a day on its network which serves London, Sussex, Surrey, parts of Hampshire and Kent.

It said sickness leave among conductors at the centre of the dispute has more than doubled since the first strike over the plans in April.

The union refuses to discuss actual numbers, saying sickness levels inevitably fluctuate, but it said Southern was cancelling services even when conductors are available as it "cuts corners".

Its General Secretary Mick Cash told the BBC the union was still prepared to talk to the company, even though it said GTR had created a "toxic" working environment.

"Things can change very quickly," he said. "The company is under massive pressure. Even Tory MPs are saying they should be stripped of the [operating] franchise."

Crawley MP Henry Smith is the latest politician to join the condemnation.

He said he wanted a meeting with the transport secretary and added: "We need to start questioning the franchise of GTR now."

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