Wednesday 7 December 2016

Southern Railway managers 'press-ganged' into working as guards - union

Alan Jones

Published 12/07/2016 | 08:06

Southern rail train Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Southern rail train Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Every manager on Southern Railway with the correct safety certification has been "press-ganged" into working as a guard following the introduction of a temporary timetable, a union has claimed.

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The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said the move proved its claim that it is "systematic understaffing" on the franchise that is at the root of the current crisis.

A total of 341 trains have been removed from the timetable for a month following weeks of disruption caused by a shortage of staff and industrial action.

The company, owned by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), has blamed high levels of staff sickness for the daily travel chaos.

Commuters staged a protest at London Victoria station on Monday night and more demonstrations are planned.

The RMT said even with the cancellation of nearly 350 trains a day the company does not have adequate staff levels to fill their rosters.

General Secretary Mick Cash said: "GTR/Southern told the public that the emergency timetable was drawn up to fit with current available staff numbers. It was yet another pack of lies from a basket-case franchise in terminal meltdown.

"They are now being forced to press-gang managers to plug the gaps in what they themselves describe as an emergency situation.

"This is crisis management that is simply out of control and the fact that the Government are on the side lines cheering this nonsense on is a national disgrace.

"The big lie that the current situation is down to 'staff sickness' or 'unofficial industrial action' is exposed as a fraud.

"The systemic failures on Govia Thameslink are down to a toxic combination of gross managerial incompetence and the failure to recruit and train enough guards and drivers to fill the rosters and diagrams.

"Those problems are simply compounded by the threat to downgrade and undermine the current safety-critical role of the guard from next month.

"RMT's fight is with the company and their cheerleaders in Government and not with the travelling public whose anger and frustration we share.

"It's time for ministers to start taking some responsibility for the chaos that is playing out on Britain's biggest rail franchise."

The temporary timetable has 85% of the normal number of trains.

A Southern spokesman said: "The changes we made have so far delivered an encouraging start to what we wanted to give our passengers: a more robust timetable with more trains running to schedule at times when people need them the most.

"But while we cautiously welcome this news, it is early days and we also realise that what our passengers really want is for us to get back to our normal timetable as quickly as possible."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on the Government to strip Govia Thameslink Railway of its franchise, saying he is appalled at the "unceasing misery" being inflicted on passengers by the operator of Southern Rail.

He urged the Department for Transport to take temporary responsibility for operation of Southern rail services, and asked it to work with his team on putting in place a speedier timetable for the transfer of suburban rail services to Transport for London.

He said: "I am appalled by the unceasing misery that Southern Rail has inflicted on tens of thousands of passengers, and I share their outrage at the lack of action to address it. Passengers are paying thousands of pounds for a service that rather than being 'turn up and go' has become 'turn up and hope'. Their frustration at such a disgraceful level of service is obvious and it is justified.

"This utter mess is now an embarrassment to our city, it is an insult to hard-working Londoners who pay their fares and it must be fixed. That is why I am calling on the Government to strip Southern of its franchise and take over the temporary responsibility of running these services.

"Ministers need to put in place a new and faster timetable for handing over inner suburban rail services to Transport for London, so that we can provide passengers with the improved services, stations and fares they deserve.

"My team is ready and willing to work with the Government on transferring responsibility for those services to Transport for London in a far speedier fashion."

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