Christmas chaos looms amid new wave of Merseyrail strikes

RMT Union takes Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram by surprise by announcing new walkouts despite ongoing discussion about who will open and close the doors on the new trains. Tony McDonough reports

Merseyrail, trains, Hamilton Square
The RMT has announced a new wave of walkouts on Merseyrail. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

A new wave of strike action is being planned on the Merseyrail network by the RMT union in the run-up to Christmas in a move that has taken City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram by surprise.

In the latest chapter of a long running and often bitter dispute over the role of guards on Merseyrail’s new £460m train fleet which began with strike action in 2018 when RMT members staged a series of walkouts which was apparently settled.

However, the dispute was reignited in July this year when the RMT announced a new wave of one-day strikes specifically over a plan for drivers to open and close the doors of the new trains when they come into operation in 2020.

READ MORE: Testing of new trains begins in Germany

After a meeting with Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, officials from the RMT union agreed to suspend the walkouts with a view to taking part in further negotiations.

However, in an unexpected move, the RMT has posted an update on its website on Friday instructing Merseyrail guards, guard standard managers and train drivers not to book on for nine separate shifts that cover every Saturday in November and December.

It is a move described as a “surprise announcement” by Mr Rotheram and looks set to cause chaos for Christmas shoppers during the festive period. The dates of the new walkouts are:

  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, November 2, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, November 9, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, November 16, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, November 23, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, November 30, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturda,y December 7, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday December 14, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, December 21, 2019
  • 00.01 hours until 23.59 hours on Saturday, December 28, 2019

The union said that it will also instruct members not to work any overtime or rest days, from 00.01 hours on Sunday, November 2019 3, until further notice.

On the RMT website, the union’s General Secretary Mick Cash said: “Our discussions with Merseyrail on the role of the guard have been ongoing and your negotiating team have continued to attempt to carry out the instructions of the NEC, reporting back in detail at all key points in what has been a drawn out negotiating process at ACAS.”

Merseyrail
Dispute centres around who will operate the doors on the new train fleet. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

He also said the union was entering into an ‘avoidance of disputes’ meeting to discuss the various options and the dispute.

In response, Mr Rotheram added: “This is a surprising announcement after several weeks of positive local negotiations. Since I inherited this dispute, I have been focused on reaching the best outcome for hardworking Merseyrail staff and the people of the Liverpool city region.

“That is why I intervened to scrap proposals for driver-only operation and guarantee a guard, with a safety critical role, on board every new train. The latest proposals strengthened that commitment by providing a role in dispatch and legally-binding job security beyond the end of the current franchise.

“I am still hopeful that we can find a way for negotiations between the RMT and Merseyrail to continue and that disruption for public can be avoided. However, I am conscious that the window for reaching a final agreement is narrowing ahead of the new trains arriving in 2020.”

And, in a separate statement, Merseyrail added: “We are extremely disappointed that the recent exploratory technical workshops between the RMT, ourselves and Merseytravel have resulted in the announcement of further strike action.

“It is especially disappointing given that there is now a guarantee of a guard on every new train with a safety critical role and that we were so close to an agreement to end this dispute.

“Our priority now is to run the best possible service on the upcoming strike days and communicate the arrangements with our passengers as soon as possible.”

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