New strike dates in Southern guards safety dispute

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image captionChanges to the role of guards were imposed by the company from Sunday

Workers on Southern trains are to stage a 48-hour strike on 7 and 8 September in the continuing dispute over the role of guards, the RMT union has announced.

The union is fighting plans by Southern owner Govia Thameslink (GTR) to turn conductors into "on-board supervisors", with drivers taking over responsibility for opening and closing carriage doors.

Services have been disrupted for months due to industrial action.

Southern said the action was "unnecessary, unjustified and futile".

Passenger service director Alex Foulds said: "Passengers and staff will once again be appalled by the RMT's decision to hold yet another strike.

"We are moving forward with our plans for the benefit of customers after nine months of fruitless attempts to reach an agreement."

Changes to the role of guards were imposed by the company from Sunday.

Mr Foulds added: "We have guaranteed all our onboard staff a job until the end of the franchise, as valued members of our future operation, with no reduction in salary."

'Disregard for safety'

The RMT has held a series of one-day strikes since April after balloting 393 members.

Earlier this month, thousands of Southern passengers faced disruption during a five-day strike, which was then suspended after three days to allow fresh talks.

Nearly 1,000 services across the network, which operates from Sussex and Surrey to London, Kent, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire, were cancelled on each of the strike days.

Staff shortages, blamed by the company on high levels of sickness absence, have also resulted in delays and cancellations to trains.

Commuters and other passengers have staged demonstrations to protest at the level of service, with some saying they have had to change their way of working to accommodate the disruption.

image captionCommuters have staged several protests over continuing disruption on the Southern network

The RMT union said the announcement of new strike dates were "after the company walked away from talks and opted instead to bulldoze through the roll out of the new operational arrangements from last Sunday without any serious attempt to secure agreement".

Describing it as a "flagrant disregard for the safety and security of passengers and staff alike", the union said industrial action would begin at 00:01 BST on Wednesday 7 September and continue until 23:59 BST on Thursday 8 September.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "This action has been forced on us by the arrogance and inaction of the Govia Thameslink and the government who have made it clear that they have no interest in resolving this dispute or in tackling the daily chaos on Southern.

"Instead they have begun the process of bulldozing through the drive towards wholesale Driver Only Operation without agreement and without any concern for the impact on safety, security and disability access."

He added: "Our fight is with the company and the government who have dragged this franchise into total meltdown.

"We share the anger and frustration of passengers and we cannot sit back while jobs and safety are compromised on these dangerously overcrowded trains."

Mr Foulds said claims safety was at risk were untrue.

"The independent rail safety body has said so, and nearly half our trains run without conductors already."

Mr Cash has called for fresh talks to be held as "an urgent priority".

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