England

Southern strike: Planned six-day strike split into two

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption The drivers' union said strikes would now be held on 10, 11 and 13 January

A planned six-day strike by drivers on Southern rail from Monday has been split into two three-day stoppages, Aslef has said.

The drivers' union said strikes would now be held on 10, 11 and 13 January, but not on other days next week.

General secretary Mick Whelan said the move did not mean the union was rolling back and warned of further strikes.

Aslef said drivers would also strike on 24, 25 and 27 January and the overtime ban would continue.

Southern's parent firm Govia Thameslink (GTR) is in dispute with Aslef and the RMT unions over the role of guards.

Aslef represents nearly 1,000 Southern drivers, while the RMT has 12 among its members, who will also take part in the strikes.

Services cancelled

Mr Whelan said: "We are taking a longer-term view of this trade dispute.

"The company has not been prepared to move - it is simply going through the motions, turning up at Acas, as it did yesterday, and telling us that it intends to impose [driver-only operated trains].

"We still believe a deal can be done but we are, at the moment, a long way from that position."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Southern network has been crippled by industrial action since last April
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Southern rail passengers have suffered months of disruption

A Southern spokesman described Aslef's announcement as "a cynical ploy to minimise the impact on drivers' pay packets and maximises misery, disruption and hardship for passengers".

"Aslef's move shows pure contempt for the travelling public and it still causes massive disruption over next week.

"These strikes are pointless and they should call the whole thing off and let common sense prevail," the spokesman added.

What's the Southern Rail strike about?

How bad have Southern rail services got?

The politics behind the Southern rail dispute

The company said since 1 January drivers are controlling the doors on just over 70% of Southern services instead of the "on board supervisors".

Southern added there were no plans to extend this.

The unions oppose the change on the grounds of safety and fear the move is a long-term ploy to phase out a second person on services.

Mr Whelan said the union's executive would meet later this month and there was a "likelihood" more strikes would be called.

Verbally abused

He added that members were "incredibly angry" at driver-only trains being extended without agreement and leaflets would be handed to passengers next week showing "blurred and dark" images of platforms as seen by drivers.

He said he had great sympathy with passengers and revealed some drivers had been verbally abused.

"Informal" talks at Acas between Southern and Aslef on Tuesday ended without agreement and there are currently no plans for any further meetings.

Mr Whelan said Aslef remained "committed to a negotiated settlement... but it is difficult to negotiate with people who are not prepared to be flexible".

Image copyright PA
Image caption There will be no Southern services during next week's three-day strike

"It is time for the company to come up with a genuine offer rather than carry on posturing," he said.

Passengers have suffered months of disruption because of industrial action, staff shortages and other problems.

Aslef members are currently banning overtime which is leading to services being cancelled or delayed every day.

'Travel if essential'

The RMT union, whose members are mostly conductors, has been taking industrial action since last April.

Its members held a three-day strike over the New Year weekend.

Rail minister Paul Maynard said fewer strikes would still cause "massive disruption" for passengers.

"I urge Aslef to call off these wholly unnecessary strikes and come to the table for talks.

"This modern way of running trains has been safely used elsewhere in the UK for 30 years.

"There is no safety issue; the independent rail regulator has confirmed it is safe," he said.

Southern said none of its train services would operate during next week's three day strike.

It said there would be 200 coaches and buses instead to provide links for essential travel between nine Southern stations and neighbouring train networks, but warned passengers should only travel if essential.

Thameslink services will continue to operate throughout each day, and there will be a reduced service on the Gatwick Express.

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