Merseyrail and RMT union finally reach agreement on role of guards on the new £460m train fleet bringing the almost three-year dispute to an end. Tony McDonough reports
A bitter dispute lasting almost three years between Merseyrail and the RMT union over the role of guards on its new trains may be at an end with a breakthrough in talks.
It means a series of one-day strikes in November and December during the peak Christmas shopping period has now been cancelled. The RMT says Merseyrail has now tabled an offer which protects the role of the guard.
The RMT first took action in 2017 when its 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.
They were postponed following talks but both Merseyrail and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotherman were stunned last Friday afternoon when the RMT announced a fresh wave of weekend walkouts during the festive period.
In statement on Wednesday afternoon, the union said: “The latest offer guarantees both a guard on the train and the safety-critical role of that guard in the despatch process and ensures the safest possible method by having guards close the train doors at the platform/train interface.
“The Merseyrail proposals have been examined in detail today at a meeting of RMT reps and the union’s National Executive and represent significant movement on the crucial despatch issue that has enabled the union to suspend all action in the current dispute.”
The RMT added there was further work to do around the fine detail but insisted it was “committed in principle” to the despatch procedure and to taking that process forwards with a view to getting a final deal over the line.
Andy Heath, managing director of Merseyrail, added: “At no time in our many days of negotiations with the RMT did we ever lose sight of the fact that the new Merseyrail trains will be one of the best metro railway trains in the national rail network.
“These new trains deliver everything that our customers have asked for through the design of a modern interior, safety features that have responded to feedback from a variety of user panels and industry bodies across the UK and of course the sliding step and platform level boarding maximising the accessibility for all our customers.
“I am pleased that after consideration the RMT’s National Executive Committee have endorsed the latest proposal in principal and at the same time have given our customers, shoppers and traders the benefit of the lead up to Christmas being strike free by suspending the planned nine days of strikes.
“We will now progress with the next phase of discussions to finalise an agreement so that the RMT can consult with its guard members before proceeding towards implementation.”
And Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram also said: “We have been close to a deal before, but I am hopeful that today’s breakthrough means that we can now look forward to the arrival from 2020 of our new, state-of-the-art trains which will be publicly owned by local people and are being built to meet their needs and the needs of our city region.”