Wealden’s MP, Nusrat Ghani, has asked for the line to Uckfield to be a priority for contingency and replacement services if the next rail strike goes ahead.
The MP says a two-day strike has been announced by the RMT union for September 7 and 8, as part of the ongoing dispute between the union and GTR over changes to the role of conductors.
The last strike, which was originally scheduled to last five days before being called off after three, left passengers who use the line to Uckfield without any contingency services or replacement bus services, while other lines did have some services.
Ms Ghani has therefore written to the Chief Executive of GTR, Charles Horton, to ask that the Uckfield line be treated more favourably if the next strike goes ahead.
Nusrat Ghani wrote: “It was with great disappointment that I heard of the RMT union’s decision to hold a further strike on September 7 and 8 as part of the ongoing dispute which has now plagued my constituents, your passengers, for far too long.
“I fully recognise that the decision to hold this strike is the union’s decision, and theirs alone. As I have made clear on many occasions, I do not believe that their grievances are justified but, instead, that they are motivated by a wish to hold the country to ransom by stopping commuters getting to work and parents getting home to their families.
Stress and inconvenience
“They should be held accountable for the disruption caused, and the stress and inconvenience that is felt by those unnecessarily affected by it.
“However, contingency plans put in place during the strike, and particularly the existence or lack of replacement services, are something which you are accountable for.
“During the last strike, my constituents were understandably angry that there was no service on the line to Uckfield, and no replacement bus services either. This stood in stark comparison to many other lines, which were much better served.
“I am writing to request that, as a result, the line to Uckfield is prioritised for contingency or replacement services during this upcoming strike. This is only fair. If it is not possible, I and my constituents would be grateful for an explanation as to why.
“I look forward to your response, as I do to the overdue resolution of this dispute.”
Southern owner’s response to RMT strike threat:
Responding to the RMT’s strike by Station staff on September 7, Alex Foulds, GTR’s Passenger Services Director, said:
“This is a cynical and deliberate stunt by the RMT to try and bring our trains to a standstill by co-ordinating strike action on two fronts on the same day to cause maximum disruption, delay and damage to our passengers’ everyday lives and the economy.
“The RMT leadership is playing politics with innocent people who are simply seeking to go about their business with employers, family and friends. It is a shameful and pitiful act and shows everyone their true colours and motivation, come what may and whoever they hurt.
“During face-to-face discussions with local union officials from the RMT and TSSA last Monday, we took our original proposals off the table, and agreed new proposals with them – a six months pilot at eight stations using volunteer staff to test the new Station Host role.
Revised pilot proposal
“It was a very productive meeting and the RMT officials present were content to put the revised pilot proposal forward to the RMT leadership for endorsement.
“We are therefore perplexed that they have decided to call this strike day in protest at proposals that no longer exist and when a solution had been found. The only conclusion is they are determined to strike even if there is no longer any justification.
“The station staff who voted in this ballot may now be asking, like us, why there is no mention of the revised pilot proposals in their statement today. They have ignored the will of their members, with only one in four voting for strike action and are now attempting to drag station staff out on strike over proposals which we have already withdrawn.”
“These pilots would be manned by volunteers on a secondment basis and would allow concerns around personal safety and cash handling to be addressed. Staff would keep their jobs, get more money and many would work fewer hours.
“To call a strike over proposals that no longer exist is a stunning own goal by the RMT leadership.”
GTR says the RMT had already announced strike action by conductors on its Southern services in Kent, Sussex and Surrey on September 7 and 8 over its plans to modernise and improve on-board services on Southern. (There are no conductors on Great Northern and Thameslink services).
The RMT’s station staff strike applies to GTR’s entire franchise of Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern, although the company’s proposals for its station modernisation programme would affect only eight stations where a pilot of the new role of station host would be run.
GTR says the proposals would affect ticket office and gateline staff but the RMT has called out on strike all its station members. This includes platform train dispatch staff “without whome we cannot operate some services, where they are needed. We are now looking at what level of service it would be possible to provide should the station staff strike go ahead.”