Aslef suspends Southern rail strikes in return for new talks

Southern train Image copyright PA
Image caption Drivers on Southern rail had been due to hold three more strikes next week

Next week's three-day strike by drivers on Southern rail has been suspended ahead of fresh talks on Wednesday, the TUC has announced.

Aslef had offered to suspend the strikes if the company agreed to "engage in intensive talks".

The RMT union has requested to join the talks but for now its separate action planned for Monday is still on.

Southern's parent company Govia Thameslink (GTR) said it was a "significant development".

"Efforts now will be on productive talks with the union and trying to find a solution and a way forward," it added.

Strike-hit Southern ranks worst for customer satisfaction

Southern rail strike: What's it about?

How bad have Southern rail services got?

Members of the RMT union are striking in a separate row over changes to the role of conductors.

It said it was awaiting a response to its request asking to take part in the same process agreed with Aslef.

It added: "In the meantime, the scheduled action remains on."

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Passengers have endured months of delays and cancellations on the Southern network

Earlier, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the union and Southern should "engage in intensive talks under the auspices of the TUC as soon as possible".

In a statement he said: "Given the implications of this dispute for the wider railway industry, I am also asking the Secretary of State for Transport to support this new process.

"Aslef believes that the best way to resolve the dispute at Southern is for all parties to engage in meaningful talks - without preconditions - aimed at finding an agreed way forward."

Analysis: BBC London Transport correspondent Tom Edwards

How long is it since Southern commuters had some good news? A year? Two?

This suspension does sound like very good news in the short-term for commuters - next week's strike has been called off, which would have closed nearly all Southern services again.

By agreeing to these new unusual talks does at least show both sides - Aslef and Southern - are willing to try and find a solution.

Also, strikingly these talks have the blessing of the Department for Transport (DfT).

But while the language from Southern and Aslef indicates a thaw, commuters have been through far too much to believe this is the end.

A DfT spokesman said it welcomed Aslef's offer but suggested talks be jointly chaired by Andy Meadows, group HR director at rail franchise Abellio, and Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC - a requested Aslef has accepted.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Commuters have held protests against Southern and parent company Govia Thameslink Railway

Both Aslef and the RMT unions are in dispute with GTR over changes to the role of conductors on driver-only operated trains, amounting to Britain's worst rail strike in 20 years.

Last week, hundreds of thousands of passengers were hit by three days of strikes by drivers.

Aslef members have also been operating an overtime ban which is being suspended from midnight.

The RMT union, which mostly represents conductors, has been involved in industrial action since last April.

Earlier, Southern ranked worst of all the rail firms in the country in a customer satisfaction survey, commissioned by consumer organisation Which?.

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