Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Southern Train Drivers To Go On Strike From Tuesday

Southern Train Drivers To Go On Strike On Turesday

A strike by train drivers has brought Southern services to a complete halt on Tuesday after the court of appeal rejected a second attempt by the rail company to block the action.

Judges upheld last week’s ruling by the high court to dismiss claims by Southern’s owner, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), that industrial action called by the train drivers’ union, Aslef, infringed rights under European law.

GTR had already urged passengers not to travel on Tuesday, irrespective of the court’s decision, warning that it would not be able to run a service.

Drivers will also strike on Wednesday and Friday this week, and plan six consecutive days of strikes in January. An ongoing overtime ban on the short-staffed train service is further affecting services, even on non-strike days.

Charles Horton, GTR’s chief executive, said the company was disappointed by the court of appeal’s ruling: “Regrettably, there will be no train services for passengers tomorrow, Wednesday and Friday. We strongly advise people not to travel.

“We will now be asking Acas to convene urgent and immediate talks between GTR and Aslef; talks that we hoped to get moving over the weekend, but Aslef would not agree. Our aim is to find a resolution to their dispute so we can bring an end to the misery being suffered by the travelling public.”

But Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said the strike had been forced by an intransigent management. “Industrial action is always the last resort. Even now, all we want is for the company to sit down with us and negotiate – properly, sensibly and in good faith, not to simply restate their old entrenched position – and do a deal for the benefit of passengers, staff and, of course, the company.”

The court ruling came as Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, stepped up his attack on the rail unions, claiming that they were demanding “not just to stop the current modernisation process, but to start reversing 30 years of working practice changes right across the country”.

Grayling wrote to MPs on Monday to reiterate his belief that the strikes were politically motivated, saying he did not want to further politicise the dispute by taking part in negotiations.

He wrote: “When I met the general secretary of Aslef soon after my appointment, with virtually his first breath he promised me ‘10 years of industrial action’. I have therefore believed it better to avoid direct ministerial involvement in negotiations during the autumn, as my involvement would make the issue even more political than it is.”

Whelan, however, said that Grayling was “being less than honest on all counts” and accused him of selectively quoting “a private meeting I had with him held, in good faith, under Chatham House rules”.

Grayling’s letter also claimed that “Aslef didn’t turn up” to talks with Southern and had refused a further offer of talks without preconditions on Monday, adding that these were “not the actions of a union that wants to act to get services back to normal”.

An Aslef spokesman said: “The secretary of state is being incredibly disingenuous, as nothing had been arranged, so there was nothing to which we could turn up.”

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, added to criticism of unions, branding the action “totally unacceptable”.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said it was an insult to passengers to blame Southern’s failures on trade unions rather than the incompetence of management and government ministers. He said: “As commuters are well aware, Southern’s sub-standard service predates any industrial action and trains are cancelled, late and dangerously overcrowded every day regardless of strike action.

“The truth is that ministers are defending this failed franchise as a point of political pride when they should be sticking up for taxpayers and commuters.”

Commuters are planning a protest march on Thursday from Southern’s main London hub, Victoria station, to the Department of Transport.

The Association of British Commuters is demanding an immediate government intervention in the dispute and a public inquiry into the collapse of Southern rail services. It also called on Grayling to act or resign.



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