Train operator and union clash again over call for independent inquiry

A train operator and union locked in a long-running and bitter safety dispute are at loggerheads once again after a call for an independent inquiry.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 12:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 1:48 pm
A Northern train

Northern has written to arbitration service Acas asking it to set up a panel looking at the issues at the heart of union RMT’s ongoing dispute.

However, the RMT has issued a scathing response dismissing the idea as a publicity stunt and saying only negotiations with Acas would solve the safety row.

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The inquiry would look at the future role of the second person on all Northern services to help customers with any issues over access, safety or other assistance they may need.

It would also explore the feasibility of driver-controlled operation, which is being fiercely resisted by RMT as it says the guard is a safety-critical role.

An independent chair would be installed with panel members and contributions from any interested parties accepted in an attempt to break the dispute which has been going on for almost two years.

Union members have now staged 40 days of industrial action, with passengers having faced months of travel misery on Saturdays as employees down tools.

Talks between the union and train firm were recently arranged through Acas but collapsed.

Richard Allan, Northern's deputy managing director, 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 per cent 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 while 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.”

However, the union has already poured cold water on any suggestion it might take part in an inquiry.

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 is 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.“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.”