Season of industrial action starts

THE first day of industrial action by the RMT on West Midlands Trains starts on Saturday 16 November, and WMT is warning that service levels will be sharply reduced, with no trains at all on some routes or sections of routes.

The walkout marks the start of a season of industrial discontent, because more action by RMT members is also looming between now and the end of the year affecting South Western Railway, Tyne & Wear Metro, the Victoria Line of London Underground and Eurostar catering. The RMT is also balloting London Underground cleaners, while the clerical and managerial staff union TSSA is preparing to ballot its members on CrossCountry in a dispute over pay.

The West Midlands walkouts, which are set to continue every Saturday until the end of the year, involve drivers, conductors and conductor instructors, and the action has been triggered by what the RMT has described as ‘plans by the company to bulldoze through Driver Only Operation and rip apart the safety critical role of the guard’.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘We will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand firm on that very basic principle. We will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility. The union remains available for talks.’

West Midlands Trains said: ‘We are very disappointed that Saturday’s action by the RMT is going ahead. There is no need for this action. We have never proposed driver only operation. We are committed to keeping a safety-critical conductor on every passenger train.

‘In recent days, we proposed a solution which meets the latest demands from RMT, in respect of our new trains when they are delivered. The solution means conductors retain responsibility for safe train despatch from stations. We remain determined to find a way of resolving this dispute without further disruption and inconvenience for our passengers.’

The lines which will be without West Midlands Trains services during the walkouts are expected to be Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, Kidderminster and Hereford, Hereford and Bromsgrove, Whitlocks End and Stratford-upon-Avon, Stratford-upon-Avon and Dorridge, Dorridge and Leamington Spa, Walsall and Rugeley Trent Valley, Rugby and Crewe via Nuneaton and Rugeley Trent Valley, and Crewe and Stafford via Stoke-on-Trent.

Timetables on other routes will be reduced.

The WMT strikes are set to be followed by 27 days of strikes on South Western Railway between 2 December and 1 January, again in a dispute over the duties of on-train staff.

However, there was brighter news from Virgin Trains. A strike of train managers set for 19 November has been called off, after agreement was reached with the RMT. Virgin said it now expected to offer a normal timetable as a result of the settlement.