Northern Rail calls for independent inquiry into dispute with train drivers who will continue to strike into January

Northern says it has formally written to the government's trade disputes regulatory body, ACAS, requesting it to use its powers to establish an independent inquiry into the issues at the heart of RMT's ongoing dispute with the train operator.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 2:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 3:53 pm
Northern rail has been in dispute with the RMT since 2017

After two years of disruption on Preston and Blackpool's railways and almost six months of strike action, the company says an independent inquiry would look at the future role of the second person that will be on Northern services, in addition to the driver, to help customers with accessibility, security, ticketing, information and any other help required.

The inquiry would also explore the feasibility of Driver Controlled Operation, in which the driver has full operational control of the train, including the train doors.

Northern is calling for the inquiry in a further attempt by the train operator to get RMT involved in discussions to resolve its dispute which is now approaching its second anniversary. The inquiry would have an independent chair and panel members and contributions would be invited from any interested parties.

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This Saturday, December 22, will be RMT’s 41st day of strike action since March 2017.

Richard Allan, deputy managing director, Northern, said: “The RMT dispute means customers, businesses and the wider economy in the North have suffered the cost of 40 days of RMT strikes, including every Saturday in September, October, November and now December. Customers, employers and colleagues are looking for both parties to resolve the dispute.

“More than 50% of all rail journeys in the UK are made on driver-controlled trains and recently the Department for Transport and Transport for the North publicly confirmed that a second person – in addition to the driver – would be retained on Northern services.

“This second person will provide customer service, including meeting customer needs on accessibility, safety, security, ticketing and information. Despite this, the RMT continues with its strike action.

“We call on RMT to join us in committing to the inquiry and suspending its industrial action whilst the inquiry takes place. This would demonstrate commitment from both sides to try and resolve the issues, reassuring customers and stakeholders that every endeavour is being made by both sides.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The call for an inquiry is nothing more than a PR stunt and we have not seen any proposals from Northern Rail whatsoever that would make serious progress in terms of resolving the dispute. The company are seeking to kick the issue of rail safety into the long grass indefinitely rather than facing up to the fundamental issue of the guard guarantee on their trains and there is no way that RMT will allow them to get away with this chicanery.“The answer to resolving this dispute is not an inquiry but meaningful negotiations. However, not only is the government working behind the scenes to block such negotiations but it is wilfully using taxpayers money to bail out Northern Rail for revenues lost as a result of strike action meaning the company have no financial incentive whatsoever to settle in a serious fashion.“We don’t need an inquiry, we need genuine and meaningful ACAS talks focused on retaining a guard on Northern trains with the full suite of safety and operational competencies including at the crucial platform/train interface. RMT stands ready for talks but we will not allow the company to railroad the issues at the heart of the dispute with meaningless gestures designed to but time and delay a solution.“The RMT action remains on.”

Northern says it has promised conductors their future role will be on-board its trains, and said it would guarantee that role until at least 2025, with their current pay being protected (starting salary for conductors is £28,250 pa), and their pay will be reviewed annually. But the company says it will only do this if the RMT ends its damaging dispute.

Meanwhile, the RMT has confirmed a raft of new strike dates on Arriva Rail North.

All RMT Arriva Rail North Conductor, Conductor Instructor and Train Driver members had already been instructed to take action on Saturday December 22 and 29.

But now the union will strike on the four Saturdays in January - 5, 12, 19, 26.Mr Cash added: “RMT continues to make every effort to get serious and meaningful talks going with Northern but the company are not interested and would prefer to call for an inquiry into the dispute to deflect attention from the impact of their behaviour on the travelling public.

“German-owned Northern Rail want to run nearly half a million trains a year without a safety critical guard on board in a move that would wreck both safety and access ‎to services and they should listen to their front-line staff and pull back from that plan immediately.

“We thank the public for their support and understanding throughout this dispute over rail safety and access and the union remains ready for genuine and serious talks.”