Aslef reaches deal with Southern to avert strikes

Campaigners stage protestImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Passengers and campaigners staged protests in London during the long-running dispute

A train drivers’ union has reached a deal with the operators of the Southern network, ending crippling strike action by its members.

Aslef and the RMT unions have been in dispute with Govia Thameslink (GTR) over changes to guards’ roles.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady announced Aslef and GTR had reached a deal after talks at Congress House, but did not give details of the agreement.

RMT’s dispute remains. Aslef’s members will now vote on the deal.

The TUC, which hosted the talks, said: “This resolves the current dispute, subject to securing the support of Aslef members, and no further industrial action is planned.”

Image copyright

Image caption

Both the RMT and Aslef walked out and Aslef also ran an overtime ban

Aslef called off three days of strikes in January and went into 10 days of talks with GTR.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said he welcomed the agreement, which he described as “a significant step forward in addressing the safety concerns of Aslef members on Southern Rail”.

He said: “Aslef has never been against changes to working methods.

“Rather, we believe any changes should be negotiated through agreed procedures.

“I am confident this deal can provide a safer and appropriately staffed railway for passengers on Southern Rail and I will be recommending it to our members.”

He said about 930 Aslef members would vote in a referendum on whether to accept the deal and ballot papers would be dispatched on Friday, to be returned by 16 February.

Dispute background

Image copyright

The Aslef dispute centred on a move to turn Southern guards into supervisors.

Under the changes, guards lost responsibility for opening and closing carriage doors and the role fell to the drivers – but both Aslef and the RMT union raised concerns about job cuts and safety issues.

Southern said it completed its programme at the start of the year to put drivers in sole control of the operation of the train, including closing the doors, on nearly 80% of routes.

The RMT action, which mostly represents conductors but also has 12 driver members, over the role of guards is set to continue.

Image copyright

Image caption

More Aslef stoppages were planned but the union agreed to talks

Nick Brown, GTR’s chief operating officer, said the aim was always to reach an agreement with the unions.

He said: “We’re delighted to have secured a deal today with Aslef to end their dispute.

“It’s good news for passengers, the regional economy and staff.

“After the misery and disruption to people’s work and family lives, we are pleased we can start to move forward and deliver a better railway for the travelling public.”

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

The two unions opposed changes to the roles of guards on trains

Commuters welcomed the end of the Aslef dispute on Twitter, but criticised Southern’s performance.

Rose Grayston tweeted: “Hallelujah! Service was terrible before might still be now but at least there will be the odd train meandering through #southernstrike.”

And Natalie Marchant wrote: “Good news! No more #southernstrike. Bad news.. normal service may well resume shortly #southernFail.”

Baby news…

Damian Sheridan posted: “@SouthernRailUK @ASLEFunion My daughter was conceived AND BORN in the time it took you to resolve your dispute #southernstrike #southernrail.”

During the dispute, passengers and campaigners staged protests over the continuing disruption at railway stations including London Victoria and Brighton, many of them calling on the government to intervene.

Image caption

Commuters described three and four-hour journeys as the disruption continued

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said the government welcomed the agreement and was “grateful to all parties for their efforts to find a positive way forward”.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling also said it was good news, but added: “We now need to concentrate on getting this railway back to normal, sorting out other challenges, but I hope this means passengers are going to start to see things operate on a normal basis again.”

‘Trust at all-time-low’

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said full details of the deal were yet to emerge and it was “essential” any safety concerns had been resolved.

He added: “Sadly, trust between Southern management and the workforce has reached an all-time low, but hopefully this agreement marks the beginning of a more inclusive way of conducting industrial relations in the future.”

Image copyright

Image caption

Aslef called off planned strike action in January to go into talks


By Richard Westcott, Transport Correspondent

Neither side is giving details of this deal.

But a letter from Southern to stakeholders says it “protects our modernisation programme for the extension of driver controlled operation and the new OBS role which we have now implemented and is retained going forward as part of this agreement”.

It suggests the company’s got its staff changes through but Aslef wouldn’t have agreed if it hadn’t got significant concessions on safety. We’ll have to see.

Meanwhile the same issue – introducing driver-only-operated trains – threatens to spread around Britain.

The RMT union is about to ballot members on Merseyrail. It may do the same at Northern. It’s still in dispute with Southern Rail. And even Aslef tell me that today’s deal “isn’t a template” for future disputes.

  • More news on the Southern announcement here
  • Merseyrail workers to be balloted over industrial action
  • London Midlands conductors call off strike ballot

Image caption

Commuters showed their anger at Brighton station

The RMT said its action was continuing because it had been barred from the talks.

After the Aslef deal was announced, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We have no details whatsoever on any deal that has been agreed by the parties who were granted a seat at the table.

“Consequently, we have no information on what impact any deal that may have been reached will have on nearly 500 guards who have been involved in an industrial dispute over safety for the best part of a year.

“That is an appalling way for that group of workers to be treated. RMT’s dispute remains on.”

Image caption

The dispute was over the role of guards

GTR said it was “ready, willing and able to meet with the RMT”.

And Mr Cash said once the RMT had full details of the deal and an assurance about the scope of talks, the union could agree “an immediate date for negotiations”.

Aslef staged a total of six strike days in total and the RMT has taken action since last April.

About 1,000 drivers work on the Southern network, according to the rail operator.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The unions raised concerns about safety and job cuts

Union officials went into the talks with GTR under the joint chairmanship of Ms O’Grady and Andy Meadows, HR director of rail firm Abellio.

Ms O’Grady and Mr Meadows said negotiators on both sides had worked “hard and co-operatively to achieve this breakthrough”.

In a joint statement, they said: “This long-running dispute has clearly been extraordinarily difficult for both staff and passengers, and we are glad that the parties have reached agreement on a way forward.”