Bitter dispute between rail bosses and workers raged on last night as the warring factions failed to agree on key issues during scrutiny from councillors (Thursday, September 22).
Representatives from the RMT union and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) were grilled by Adur and Worthing councils’ joint overview and scrutiny committee, hours after the union announced a further 14 days of strike action.
The committee urged the parties to urgently resolve their differences in order to bring about swift improvements to the service.
“We apologise unreservedly,” said Angie Doll, GTR’s passenger services director.
“Performance has been shocking and it has not been good enough.”
Presentations from both sides, at the Shoreham Centre, in Pond Road, Shoreham, appeared to suggest an end to the dispute was not in sight.
The row centres on the future role of conductors, with GTR introducing driver-only-operation trains.
Jeff Slee, RMT national executive committee member, argued passing responsibility for opening and closing train doors to drivers was ‘less safe’ than allowing conductors to do so.
He said the changes were ‘unnecessary’ and ‘politically motivated’, claiming around 100 jobs would be lost as a result.
But a frustrated Ms Doll insisted no jobs would be lost as part of the plans.
Describing many of the RMT’s claims as myths, she said a second member of staff would remain on services but would be freed up to focus entirely on passengers.
Mr Slee previously said there were ‘no guarantees’ over the presence of a second person.
Ms Doll said: “Let me get this clear. We are not talking about taking people off trains. We are talking about using these resources more efficiently than we do at the moment.”
The union painted a picture of deep dismay within the rail company.
Mr Slee said perks such as removal of staff car parking permits had ‘antagonised’ workers, while branch secretary.
He acknowledged public sympathy may wane in light of strike action but explained guards felt the ‘reluctant’ action was the only option.
He said: “They have lowered the morale within the company. They have led to an atmosphere where members of staff are reluctant to go the extra mile to help out the company when things go wrong and these are some of the things which have hindered development of providing an effective service.”
GTR is running a revised timetable, which saw more than 300 services temporarily cut in a bit to improve reliability.
All train between Seaford and Brighton will be restored on Monday, leaving around 100 services to be brought back.
In response to a question from councillor George Barton, Ms Doll said all services would be reinstated by the end of October at the ‘absolute latest’.
The committee tabled several recommendations.
It called for the parties to work to resolve the dispute and provide further clarity over contrasting claims over job losses.
It urged GTR to improve passenger communication and ensure services, including ticket offices, were open as advertised.
Speaking after the meeting, a Southern spokesman said: “This was a constructive meeting and Angie, our passenger services director, was glad to have the opportunity to apologise for the recent train service, explain what we are doing to make things better and explode some of the myths the RMT is putting out about our plans to improve customer service on board our trains and at our stations. We have taken away the committee’s recommendations and will respond shortly.”