The RMT Union is flexing its muscles in response to the lack of a commitment by South Western Railway to keep the guard on the train, reports Richard Alcock
In December, the train guards employed by South Western Railway went on strike for 27 days, excluding the day of the General Election and Christmas /Boxing day. In the past, the strike had been for shorter periods, such as 5 days. This time, the RMT felt the company was not listening and the train guards wanted an increase in the number of strike days over one period.
At the beginning of 2019 the RMT had been given a verbal understanding that there would be an agreement and that SWR would agree to a train guard on every train, but unfortunately that was not the case as the company was not prepared to put it into writing.
The RMT believes it is not rail companies who refuse to make agreements to guarantee a train guard on every train, but the Department for Transport ~ basically the government does not want to see the union winning and wants to continue trying to increase Driver Only Operated (DOO) train services which started in the early 1980s with the Bedford to London St Pancras line. One of the reasons why it is so important to have a train guard on every train, is that it makes people feel safe and can offer assistance to the train driver if there is a failed train or in the case severe delays.
A good example of this was when a South Eastern service out of London Waterloo East travelling down to Kent had severe delays of up to 2 hours in appalling weather. Frustrated passengers opened the train doors and got onto the railway line, and the train driver had to arrange to get the power turned off. This was a Driver only service and despite ASLEF supporting a train guard on every train, in recent years they have been silent on this issue since the dispute with GTR Southern.
DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) and the National Pensioners Convention whose members rely heavily on having a train guard, know the importance of this train strike and why people must support the RMT.
For passengers who need assistance getting on and off a train, planning a day trip to the coast can be like planning an army exercise. There may be staff at larger stations like London Victoria or Waterloo for the beginning of the journey, but if there wasn't a train guard on the train and were going to a small unmanned station (the clue is in the description) how are wheelchair passengers able to get off the train?
I have worked for SWR and SWT (South West Trains) for over 21 years and I started off as a train guard on slam-door trains, which you will only find on steam railways now. Unfortunately, without support from other grades such as platform and ticket office staff but especially train drivers in ASLEF, the fight to keep the train guard and get a satisfactory solution will take longer. The RMT appreciates all the support given from Labour and the trade union movement.
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