Local MPs, Amber Rudd and Huw Merriman, have today warmly welcomed the decision by train drivers from the Aslef union to bring to an end their 18 month strike action on Southern Rail. The dispute, centring on whether a train driver or second crew member should be responsible for operating the doors on the new fleets of trains, reached its peak last winter when the entire Southern service ground to a halt.
In an overwhelming decision, almost 80% of Aslef train-driver members voted to accept a five-year pay increase worth 28.5% and to operate the train doors in return for a commitment by Southern to continue to provide a second crew member on all trains bar those where exceptional circumstances mean that the crew member cannot join the train. Previously the train service would have to be cancelled if a second crew member was unavailable. The union and management have agreed other changes in terms and conditions which will allow Southern to boost productivity and improve driver retention.
Hastings and Rye MP, Ms Rudd, said, "I am pleased that the dispute with ASLEF has finally come to an end. I support there being a second member of staff on-board trains to assist customers and I welcome the agreement which has been reached between the union and GTR. Passengers and local businesses have suffered significant disruption as a result of strikes. I now hope that the RMT union will also reach an agreement which will allow modern and reliable services to be delivered for our communities which rely on them."
The settlement, which lasts until 2021, applies only to train drivers belonging to Aslef. Second crew members, belonging to the RMT union, have continued their industrial action throughout the year but, with the drivers having continued to operate the train doors during this time, it has not had the same impact on local services.
Mr Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, said "As a daily commuter myself, I am well aware how difficult life has been for residents when the drivers have taken industrial action. I am pleased that a deal has been reached and I am now calling for the RMT union to do likewise. Whilst 90% of services run even when the RMT strike, the headlines cause uncertainty to businesses in a tourist area such as ours. There are now more second crew members employed than at the start of this dispute. It is time for everyone to put aside their past differences and start repairing the damage which this action has caused for so many of our constituents."
The end of the industrial action comes at a time when Southern Rail is readying itself for an overhaul and upgrade in its timetable in the local area.