England

Southern rail strikes off pending government-union talks

Southern Rail trains Image copyright PA
Image caption The dispute has been ongoing for more than a year

Planned strikes by Southern rail guards and drivers have been suspended ahead of talks with the transport secretary.

Industrial action called for 1, 2, and 4 August will not now go ahead.

Aslef and the RMT unions were contacted by Chris Grayling inviting them to a meeting, subject to the action over staffing and pay being halted.

Aslef said an overtime ban by drivers who have rejected a pay offer is also suspended. The rail firm said it was "delighted on behalf of passengers".

Both unions are embroiled in a long-running dispute with Southern's parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) over plans to replace conductors with "on-board supervisors".

Under the plan, extra responsibilities including the closing of train doors would switch to drivers.

Both unions had urged Mr Grayling to negotiate directly with them to end the dispute.

A Department for Transport spokesman welcomed the decision to call off strike action.

"The Transport Secretary has repeatedly offered to meet Aslef and the RMT if they call off strike action," he said.

"We look forward to discussing a solution that ensures passengers receive the high quality rail services that they deserve."

Image caption Mick Cash (RMT), Stephen Lloyd and Mick Whelan (Aslef) met at Westminster on Tuesday

On Tuesday Eastbourne Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd met with the unions. He described news of the government talks as "a breakthrough".

"I want the secretary of state, the union leaders, sitting down and getting round the table and sorting this debate that's caused so much frustration to my constituents in Eastbourne and many hundreds of others across the south-east.

"It's good news. Let's keep moving forward now."

In a statement, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: "Aslef is committed to resolving matters as soon as possible while safeguarding the interests of our members, and the safety of passengers, particularly those with disabilities.

"We hope talks can start as soon as possible and, ideally, within the week."

A statement issued by GTR said: "We are delighted on behalf of our passengers.

"We truly hope that a resolution can be found once and for all."

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