Thousands of Southern rail passengers will face the misery of travel disruption over Christmas and New Year as six more days of strikes have been confirmed.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced three-day strikes starting on December 22 and 31, hours before the latest 48-hour industrial action began.
Passengers have faced months of delays, cancellations, reduced services, and strikes this year in an ongoing dispute over Southern’s plans to change the role of conductors.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Yet again, the sheer pig-headedness of the company and the government means that our members are being forced to take further industrial action in a bid to maintain a safe and secure service on Southern Rail.”
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators, described the planned strikes as an ‘unwanted Christmas present for passengers’.
He said: “Changes being adopted by Southern, opposed by the RMT, will give passengers a better service.
“Modern trains mean that drivers can shut doors safely while guards are free to look after passengers.
“Jobs and safety aren’t at risk.”
Southern franchise operator Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) plans to introduce driver-only operated trains across the whole network, something the union representing Southern rail workers opposes.
The RMT is arguing to retain a ‘safety critical’ conductor, in addition to the driver, on all services which currently have a guard on board.
Existing guards will become on board customer service staff with no one losing their job or having their pay cut as a result of the changes, according to GTR.
Talks between GTR and the RMT, which accuses the operator of putting profit before safety, remain deadlocked.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard described the strike announcement as extremely disappointing.
He said: “The union leaders have continually rejected a deal that means no job cuts and ensures that on board supervisors will carry on delivering safe, accessible and more reliable rail services.
“I strongly urge the RMT to put passengers first and call off this damaging action.”
Southern condemned the strikes, saying families wanting to get home for Christmas will be affected, and also shops and businesses at their busiest time.
“Not content with causing months of misery, the RMT has now hit a new low and is determined to cancel Christmas for the travelling public,” a Southern spokesman said.
Concerns about performance issues on Southern were raised at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, November 2 by Maria Caulfield MP who urged the Prime Minister to intervene.
The Lewes MP decried 18 months of hell for Southern commuters and has called on both sides to consider the terrible disruption their actions are having on ordinary people’s lives.
Commuters and other regular users of Southern services are losing patience with each side blaming the other and just want to see services improve.
#southernstrike over the Christmas period is just despicable. Any shred of support I had for the RMT has been thrown out he window.
— Alex Armstrong (@AlexEArmstrong) November 4, 2016
Emily Yates, co-founder of the Association of British Commuters said: “The news of the strikes has hit commuters hard at the end of a week of further crisis, featuring four-hour delays on at least two non-strike days this week.
“Even without the strikes, it is clear that the service is in meltdown.”
Image courtesy of Joshua Brown via Flickr, with thanks