Merseyrail – RMT Guards Dispute – Talks collapse as employer rejects compromise says union

Below is the press release from the train guard’s union RMT following the collapse of talks which were aimed at finding a solution to the bitter dispute on Merseyrail over the hugely controversial removal of guards from local trains.

I have covered this matter many times before. My last posting on this subject can be accessed via the link below:-

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

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/03/18/merseyrail-so-how-many-customer-service-staff-will-replace-the-train-guards-under-merseytravels-plans/

Merseyrail guards talks collapse as company rejects compromise

TALKS AIMED at ending the Merseyrail guards’ dispute collapsed today when the company flatly refused to discuss RMT’s compromise proposal.

The union had refrained from calling more strike action on Merseyrail to coincide with strikes in separate disputes at Arriva Rail North and Virgin East Coast, in order to give the talks a fair wind.

But RMT’s offer to put the contentious issue of train despatch and door operation into a joint safety working-group was rejected out of hand by Merseyrail bosses, who know that the Merseyside public will be left to pick up the bill for the dispute, thanks to a reimbursement clause hidden in their contract.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“We held off from calling further strike action on Merseyrail to give these talks a chance, but our good faith has been thrown straight back in our faces and once more all they wanted to discuss was the terms of our surrender.”

“Our negotiating team put forward a compromise that would have allowed us to talk about guaranteeing a second safety-critical crew member aboard every train separate to the issue of train despatch and door control.

“We offered to accept recommendations on despatch and door control from a safety working group that would include the company, the unions, the manufacturers and the safety agencies, if Merseyrail accepted the principle of a second safety-critical crew-member on every train.”

Regional Organiser John Tilley, who led the RMT negotiating team, said:

“It is difficult to understand why Merseyrail invited us to talks in the first place, as they have not budged even a fraction of an inch.

“Their invitation said that they wanted to see an end to the dispute, but when we got round the table there was still nothing on it but the complete abolition of Merseyrail guards.

“Our proposal would have taken the issue of who opens the doors out of the talks altogether, but the company, which had previously tried to hide behind the politicians, even said it would be disappointed if the new Metro Mayor and city-region authorities ordered a rethink

“That is not just another stab in the back for our members, but a total insult to the Merseyside public who have overwhelmingly supported the campaign to keep guards on Merseyrail.

“We have tried our damnedest to reach a settlement, but Merseyrail’s intransigence leaves us with no alternative but to return to the picket lines.”

I wonder how Merseyrail and their political masters on Labour-run Merseytravel will respond? After all it was the political decision made by Merseytravel to confirm an order for new trains without the need for them to be operated with train guards that signaled (sorry could not resist that one) the start of this dispute.

With thanks to Cllr. John Dodd for the lead to this posting

Merseyrail – The continuing RMT dispute & an interesting short video of the new trains that have sparked it

Merseyrail’s new Stadler Train

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyrail-hit-strike-grand-national-12775553

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

Can’t help thinking that Merseytravel (as opposed to Merseyrail) in effect fired the starting gun for this dispute by not finding an agreement with the guards union RMT before they ordered trains that would operate without guards.

Merseyrail – RMT Guards vote for Industrial Action

The present Merseyrail rolling stock (Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

Below is the RMT Union notice which was sent to members of the Merseytravel Committee today:-

RAIL UNION RMT confirmed today that members have voted overwhelmingly for both strike action and action short of a strike in a ballot for industrial action after Merseyrail’s continued failure to provide cast iron assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard.

Action has by RMT’s Merseyrail guards and drivers has been confirmed as follows: Members not to book on for any shifts between 0001hrs and 23.59 hrs on Monday 13th March. In addition members will not work any rest days from 00.01 hrs on Tuesday 7th March indefinitely.

81.8% of members voted for strike action with 93.5% backing action short of a strike.

In addition, the union is kick starting a renewed campaign, involving the general public and targeting politicians across the area served by Merseyrail, aimed at maximising political and public support for RMT’s fight for a guaranteed guard on the company’s services.

RMT General secretary Mick Cash said:

“This ballot result sends out the clearest possible message to Merseyrail, Merseytravel and politicians across the area that RMT is prepared to stand up and fight for public safety and the guard guarantee. The company now has the best part of two weeks to sit down with us, address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and negotiate a settlement before the action commences.

“The union’s position on Driver Only Operation is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. It is the failure of Merseyrail to give guarantees on those basic principles that has led to the current dispute and the campaign of industrial action.

“RMT asked Merseyrail to give the union assurances that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. We set out clear deadlines giving the company ample time to give those assurances but the company have flatly refused to consider a guarantee of a second safety critical person on the new trains”.

“This dispute, and the industrial action announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened and to the unions deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit. The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety.

“Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their network. That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The union remains available for meaningful talks and we would expect Merseyrail to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”

I can’t say that this has come as any surprise at all as Merseytravel, the public sector body that controls the Merseyrail Train Franchise, all but invited the strike in my view by choosing to purchase new trains which will be DOO – Driver Only Operated.

Like many I view this move towards taking away train guards with great scepticism as I don’t think Merseytravel have convinced anyone so far that it will actually lead to a safer local rail network for Merseyside. It does not help that Merseytravel seem to have differing answers to the question why they have decided to go down the route of Driver Only Operation. But of course I also view with horror the prospect of an industrial dispute and railway strikes such as that which is presently ongoing in the South East of England over this very issue.

I suspect this dispute has a long way to run and the victims of it will be the travelling public and Merseyrail staff it seems.

My thanks to Cllr. John Dodd for the lead to this posting.

Merseyrail – So just why has public sector body Merseytravel decided there will be no Guards on trains?

I have been pondering about the recent announcement that the new Merseyrail trains will operate without train guards yet the more I read about the project the less clear the answers become.

Take the latest issue of RAIL magazine, which leads on the £460m fleet renewal. It quotes two significant things.

Firstly it says ‘It’s implementation [ i.e. no guards on the new trains] was also a key recommendation made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, following a fatal incident at James Street Station in 2011 that resulted in the conviction of a train guard for manslaughter by gross negligence.’

Now then I think it fair to say that many folk were very uncomfortable with the guard referred to above carrying the can for that accident. I previously blogged about it and a later similar incident:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/01/25/merseyrail-guard-in-the-dock-seems-it-is-happening-all-over-again/

Of course the clear implication of this is that trains will be safer without guards. Now how can that be?

But then in the same RAIL article the magazine quotes the Chairman of the Merseytravel Committee saying ‘In an idea world we’d like to have a second member of staff [a train guard?] on every train, but there aren’t resources to do that.’

Now then, does this second quote not make it seem that money was at least a significant deciding factor? Well that’s how it reads to me for what my opinion is worth.

But aren’t the guards are already there doing the job? On that basis keeping them in that job would not increase the pay bill at all surely.

Are we to surmise then that, what may be the case is that, the savings from taking away the train guards are being used to help pay for the new trains?

This feels like wading through mud to me but the bottom line is how will a train without a train guard be safer or at least as safe as one with one? And I come back to a question I have asked before. What will a driver do when he/she is responsible for the passengers on a train (and I mean specifically here those who are acting dangerously to themselves and others) as well as driving the train?

Ignoring the high profile politics of this issue (as presently highlighted by the Southern Trains dispute, which is fundamentally about the same issue) this is about safety and the powers that be need to try to convince us all that trains without guards will be at least as safe as those with guards. I for one will need a lot of convincing.

And finally, its no surprise at all that the RMT is now balloting its members for industrial action over the loss of train guards on Merseyrail. Well Merseytravel/Merseyrail you started this dispute, how are you going to end it?

Merseytravel & Merseyrail – Have ‘travel’ dropped ‘rail’ in it?’

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I was taken by a short article in a recent Merseytravel staff briefing which reads:-

RMT Union story

We received a number of enquiries regarding the RMT announcement regarding a dispute with Merseyrail in relation to new trains which were directed to Merseyrail who issued a statement. This was picked up by several local and regional media including the Liverpool Echo.

Firstly lets get a few explanations in

The railway unions are ASLEF and RMT

The public transport body for the Liverpool City Region/Merseyside is Merseytravel which is a Committee of the Liverpool City Region. The Liverpool City Region is presently run by the leaders of the 6 local authorities across Merseyside. These leaders in turn nominate councillors to sit on the Merseytravel Committee.

The current private sector operator of the trains on the Merseyrail 3rd rail electrified suburban network is unsurprisingly called Merseyrail.It has a franchise agreement to run the Merseyrail network until 2028 if memory serves. They were awarded that franchise by Merseytravel.

There is every reason to think that those who are not close to the goings on of the rail industry on Merseyside will confuse and transpose the names Merseytravel and Merseyrail. Indeed, the similar names must lead to confusion as to who is responsible for what. That may of course be convenient for some?

Now back to the reason for this posting. You see the quote above from the Merseytravel staff briefing is revealing as in effect the public transport body for our area is seemingly saying to the press don’t ask us about the operation of the new trains we have just ordered ask Merseyrail the operator of the trains.

But just hang on a minute who ordered the new trains? Yes you’ve guessed correctly it is Merseytravel. And who chose to select a bidder to build the trains – again Merseytravel. So who decided that the new trains would be DOO (Driver Only Operation) i.e. No train Guard? Well to me it must be Merseytravel yet again. It was they who put out the tender for the building of the trains, they who selected the winning bidder (Swiss firm Stadler) and they who will own trains that are not intended to run with Train Guards.

On that basis why are Merseytravel saying that they are telling the media to speak to Merseyrail about the potential for an industrial dispute over the removal of Train Guards? Yes, Merseyrail will be the employer which the unions will be legally in dispute with but the creation of that dispute, should it get to that point, will have been via the decision making of the public sector body Merseytravel!

Work that one out! And is this ‘arrangement’ not very similar to what is going on with the Southern Rail dispute presently i.e. the public sector (in Southern’s case the Department for Transport) making decisions that a private sector operator then has to implement whilst the public sector hands are washed of it all?

My thanks to Phil for the thoughts behind this particular posting.

BTW, just a thought. It’s not so long ago that there was a big fuss about new trains being built abroad instead of in the UK. I have not heard a peep about Merseyrail’s new trains being Swiss built. And is this not even more odd now we have as a nation confirmed our wish (not mine I would add!) to be insular and inward facing? As I say just a thought.

More on the train guards (or the lack of them) on the newly ordered Merseyrail rolling stock

I am a regular reader of the The RAILWAY Magazine and unsurprisingly its January 2017 edition gives prominence to the £460m contract awarded to Swiss manufacturer Stadler to build the next generation of trains for the Merseyrail electrified network.

All this we already know but one aspect of the Railway Magazine article jumped out at me. Maybe it has been said before and possibly I just missed it but I thought this quote was quite telling ‘The new trains will be able to run under driver-only operation (DOO); following a fatal platform accident in 2011, the Office of Road and Rail has been working closely with Merseyrail to achieve the aim of DOO at some future point.’

Firstly, it seems to me that the ‘decision’ to go with driver-only operation was probably taken, if not by formal resolution by public transport body Merseytravel, quite some time ago. Remember this:- But a spokeswoman for the travel body said it could not reveal whether bidders to run the service were proposing driver-only trains or not, citing commercial confidentiality laws. That quote is from the Liverpool Echo dated 28th July 2016.

Secondly, this is the first time I have seen a direct connection made with the 2011 accident and driver-only operation. Is the implication now that the powers that be are saying that if DOO had been in operation back then the accident may have/would have been avoided? Or is it simply a smokescreen being thrown up to try to justify DOO?

This whole procurement process does not exactly fill me with a huge amount of confidence. And can there be any wonder that rail union RMT is feeling like they have been shunted into the sidings whilst things have been progressed elsewhere?