Driver only operation of trains – Have ASLEF shafted fellow trade union RMT?

Readers of this blog site will know I have been keeping a close eye on Driver Only Operation (DOO) of trains, with particular reference to the industrial dispute involving franchise operator Merseyrail and the RMT union where removal of train guards is planned when new Stadler rolling stock is delivered in a couple of years time.

Merseyrail’s new Stadler Trains, to be delivered in a couple of years time, are at the heart of the dispute about driver only operated trains.

In case you are not up to speed a brief recap – Merseytravel the transport committee of the Liverpool City Region (a public sector body) decided to accept a tender for new trains that can/will run without train guards. Unsurprisingly, the RMT union which represents train guards said we are not having that. Merseytravel in effect then passed the dispute, which they had created, onto Merseyrail the private sector franchise operator of trains on Merseyside – a sort this out, we are washing our hands of it type situation if ever I saw one. So Merseyrail find themselves in dispute with their own train guards union over a matter (that they had little say in?) but one that they have to accept and in effect justify and promote! The dispute is ongoing with little sign of a solution so far despite many Merseyrail RMT strike days.

So what’s ASLEF got to do with this dispute. Well they represent train drivers and on the infamous Southern rail franchise where the most significant dispute over DOO has been taking place over a long time period a settlement has recently been reached with ASLEF. It in effect buys them out of the dispute down on Southern. And buys them out could seemingly not be a more appropriate phrase as they, the train drivers, have gained a 28.5% pay rise over 3 years! What’s more we are told that other than in exceptional circumstances a second safety trained member of staff (an On Board Supervisor or OBS) will be on board all Southern trains – is that not all but alternative speak for a train guard?

Ironically, the Southern dispute was being propped up by the Department for Transport who were seemingly out to break trade union refusal to accept more DOO trains. Well it’s cost the DfT quite a few bob in the end and train guards with a different name but doing a remarkably similar job!

The RMT union though are far from happy, not least with their comrades in ASLEF who they seem to see as having taken the King’s Shilling so to speak.

So how will the dispute resolution on Southern affect Merseyrail? Well you can bet the RMT are probably more motivated to fight on than they were before, if their members will continue to back prolonged strike action. The guards and indeed RMT seem to be holding the public support they have had since the dispute started as rail users, particularly female ones, want to keep an on-board second person for customer safety reasons. Merseyrail are only offering this facility on some trains, where problems and disorder are more likely as far as I can see. On that basis resolution of the dispute would seem to hang on Merseyrail extending the second on-board member of staff to all trains?

As a lifelong trade unionist seeing ASLEF and the RMT being caught in a divide and rule type situation is unfortunate. However, sadly trade unions do have the ability to act in very selfish ways that they usually claim to be very much opposed to and it seems that the old adage ‘everyone has their price’ still applies.

So Merseytravel/Merseyrail. Let’s bring this dispute to an end. Time to back off and put second on-board safety critical member of staff on every one of your new Stadler trains and you can call them whatever you like so long as they look and act like train guards.

2 thoughts on “Driver only operation of trains – Have ASLEF shafted fellow trade union RMT?

  1. Laurence Cox says:

    As a Londoner, used to the Tube which runs without guards, I find it difficult to understand why the Mersey Metro needs them for “safety reasons”. Yes, we have staff on central London station platforms during the ‘rush hour’ to control boarding and ensure that trains depart without delay, but no guards on the Tube trains themselves.

    Isn’t what we are seeing an example of the old restrictive practices from RMT? The difference on Southern is that the train can still be run if a guard is not available (for example, through sickness) whereas without this agreement the train would have to be cancelled to the detriment of the passengers. Passenger numbers on trains into London dipped this year (probably as a result of the RMT strikes); any continuing decline calls into question the need for more investment in public transport, and hence jobs for RMT and ASLEF members.

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