England

Southern Rail: RMT offers to suspend strike for new talks

Protestors at Victoria Station
Image caption Commuters held a protest at Victoria Station in July

A five-day strike on Southern trains will be suspended on Thursday and Friday if the company agrees to new talks without pre-conditions, the RMT union has said.

But the rail firm said it was not prepared to talk unless the RMT was willing to discuss an eight-point plan, rejected last Friday.

Southern has cancelled 946 services each day since action began on Monday.

It has called the strike "pointless, needless and senseless".

The RMT is fighting plans by Southern owner Govia Thameslink (GTR) to turn conductors into "on-board supervisors" from 21 August, with drivers taking over responsibility for opening and closing carriage doors.

Live updates on Southern strike

Southern rail strikes

620,000

Journeys per day on Southern

  • 946 services cancelled per day

  • 2,242 services would normally have run on a weekday

  • 15 routes have no Southern service in either direction during the strike

  • 5 further routes have limited services from 07:30 BST to 18:00 BST

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The company [GTR] knows that prescriptive pre-conditions would not allow genuine talks to take place.

"In an effort to break the deadlock and get the talks process moving, RMT is prepared to suspend strike action set for Thursday and Friday if Southern agree to urgent talks without pre-conditions. The ball is now in their court."

'Pick up the phone'

But a Southern spokesman said: "We have made the RMT a fair and comprehensive eight-point offer and we'll meet them any time, any place, anywhere to talk about our offer on our network to settle this dispute.

"This strike has to stop and has to stop now."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald urged Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to persuade GTR to accept the RMT's offer.

"All he needs to do is pick up the phone to GTR and rail services can be restored in time for tomorrow's rush hour," he said.

"The long-suffering passengers will not understand why a government minister would do anything other than encourage all parties to embrace this opportunity."

Mr Grayling said on Tuesday that there was "absolutely no excuse" for the strikes, which he said were designed to stop essential improvements of passengers' journeys.

Conservative MPs in two of the areas worst hit by the strike appealed to the government, GTR and RMT to end their constituents' suffering.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Members of the RMT union demonstrated outside the Department for Transport on Wednesday morning

Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who represents Hastings and Rye, which has no trains during the strike, said she had told GTR boss Charles Horton passengers had "suffered enormous disruption for far too long".

She said: "I hope the union will consider that it has been given a better deal than many of its passengers enjoy, many of whom are struggling to get to their places of employment."

Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, which has been similarly hit, has urged rail minister Paul Maynard to "bring his influence to the table" to resolve the outstanding issues.

Passengers are expected to join a protest march from London's Victoria station to the Department for Transport in central London on Wednesday evening.

The Campaign for Better Transport and the Association of British Commuters will present a 6ft-tall letter to Mr Maynard calling on him to attend a "passenger assembly" to answer questions and arrange better compensation for customers affected by the dispute.

'Sick and tired'

Summer Dean, from Brighton, spokeswoman for the recently formed association, told BBC Sussex: "I would like to see some respect. Passengers are being held to ransom in this dispute and it's about time government stepped in."

Before the latest strike, Southern cut 341 services a day from its weekday timetable to improve reliability.

But Ms Dean said travellers were still "spending hours getting home, missing out on seeing family and friends and putting children to bed" and there was no date for the regular timetable to resume.

Southern rail performance

Figures for 26 June to 23 July 2016

34.8%

Southern Mainline and Coast trains at terminus at least 5 minutes late

12.6%

Total trains late for England and Wales

  • 12% Govia Thameslink Railway services cancelled or significantly late

  • 4.4% Total England and Wales trains cancelled or significantly late

Getty Images

A rail users group in east Surrey has accused Southern of a "criminal, epic fail" by running eight trains an hour through Redhill each evening during the strike without any stopping.

The Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users' Association said passengers were "forced to travel to Gatwick Airport then catch taxis, costing £15 to £20, back to Redhill".

Southern said routing a train to call at Redhill would take "enough extra time to cause a detrimental knock-on effect to the whole timetable" but said it would now "review what might be able to be done".

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