South Western Railway staff begin five day strike

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South Western Railway (SWR) staff have today begun a planned five-day strike.

Staff with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) began the strike at 00:01 BST as part of a protracted negotiation over the role of guards on trains.

The move follows earlier industrial action in February. Both South Western Railway and the RMT union have blamed the other for the failed negotiations.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The company have refused to give assurances on the future operational role of the guard fuelling fears amongst our members of a stitch up. That situation has been compounded by an insistence that future operational models will be governed by the protection of company profits and not the safety of the travelling public.”

A South Western Railway spokesperson said: “Clearly, [the RMT] has decided to target popular events such as Royal Ascot with this cynical action which is driven by internal RMT politics.

“The RMT has always said it wanted us to keep the guard on every train which is what we have offered as part of a framework agreement. We want to move the conversation on to how we operate our new trains and take advantage of the new technology on board to benefit our customers.”

South Western Railway operates in London, Berkshire, Surrey, Hampshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and the Isle of Wight. Passengers are strongly advised to plan their travel in advance and allow extra time for journeys.

Ask the expert

Andy Cook, CEO of Marshall-James and expert in industrial relations, commented: “The rail industry continues to be resistant to any kind of change without rail companies paying heavily for the privilege. We are back in another dispute about ‘guards’ on trains, under the misleading headline from unions that it’s about health and safety. It isn’t. At the heart of this dispute is the protection of jobs and expensive terms and conditions of long-serving railway employees.

“Driver only trains have been in existence and working safely on many lines in the UK – the unions know that the more they are seen to give in to change, the fewer people are ultimately employed and that means fewer union members. In other words, they lose their stranglehold on one of the last industries where unions can cause huge impact.”

“Rail companies are faced with a choice: to push through with changes that to most people think are sensible to allow for efficiency and better value, or to give in and continue to operate an antiquated, old fashioned service where technological advances must stay on the shelf.”

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