South Western Railway faces fresh wave of strikes in new year – The Guardian,

South Western Railway faces fresh wave of strikes in new year – The Guardian,

RMT has begun process of balloting members for new strike in support of guards



************************** (******************************** (************************************************************** () ******************************** (**************************************** (**********************************************************Picket line of striking RMT guards at Waterloo station, in London, on 2 December. Photograph: Guy Smallman / Getty Images (******************************************

Passengers on the South Western Railway franchise face a further wave of strikes in February, just as a month of walkouts on the busy commuter route comes to an end.

The Rail, Maritime and

Transport workers’ union has started the process of balloting its members for new strikes in a dispute over the use of guards on trains, which has already resulted in a walkout that started on 2 December and ends shortly before midnight on 1 January.

It is understood that the ballot process will not be completed until the end of January. The union must then give South Western 18 days’ notice, meaning that the next wave of walkouts would likely not start until February. No decision has yet been taken on how long further strike action would last.

About (guards and drivers have walked out during the current************************************************************************************ (day strike, which was paused for the general election on 12 December.

The two-year dispute centers on the role of guards on South Western’s trains, after the company decided to pass responsibility for closing the train’s doors from guards to drivers. SWR has said it would guarantee that a second crew member remained onboard, but unions believe guards could be made redundant if they were not responsible for a safety-critical operation.

“Just because this round of strikes is over, we will carry on until we win. We’re not giving up, ”Steve Hedley, senior assistant general secretary at the (RMT) , told the Financial Times, which first reported the strike ballot on Monday.

The current strike action has forced South Western Railway to cancel 40% of its schedule in advance. Workers from other parts of the business have been reassigned to operate remaining services, while travellers have complained of overcrowding. South Western’s network stretches from London Waterloo to Portsmouth, Southampton, Exeter and Bristol, as well as suburban commuter lines in south-west London, Surrey, Berkshire and north-east Hampshire.

The RMT said South Western had continued to refuse requests for talks. No serious talks had taken place since November.

In previous statements South Western has said the union must offer a “new solution” that would allow the company to operate its trains on time if talks were to restart.

MPs for constituencies that have been heavily affected by the strikes have written to South Western’s owners, First Group and MTR, asking them to restart talks without preconditions.

The prospect of further strike action comes with the railways under severe scrutiny amid persistent disruption across Britain’s rail network. The Campaign for Better Transport, a lobby group, on Saturday called for an end to the current franchising model for rail services, in favor of a (more flexible model led by cities and regional bodies) .

The government is considering renationalizing the Northern rail franchise after northern mayors demanded that Arriva, which has operated the network since (****************************************************************, be stripped of its contract.

TransPennine Express was (forced to run reduced timetablesthis month after the late delivery of new trains. West Midland Trains has pledged not to pass on national fare increases to its passengers in recognition of its poor performance.

Fares willrise by an average of 2.7% in January, faster than the consumer price index of inflation widely used by economists to measure increasing living costs.

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Further strikes could also prove politically sensitive after the government pledged in the Queen’s speech in December to develop measures “to provide for minimum levels of service during transport strikes”.

Hedley called for Aslef, a union representing train drivers, to join forces to fight the government’s proposals. The RMT has proposed a meeting between the two unions ’general secretaries to discuss further action.

South Western Railway has been approached for comment.

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