Frank McKenna, chief executive of Downtown in Business, is calling on the RMT union to call off the six one-day walkouts planned for August, September and October. Tony McDonough reports
A leading voice for businesses in Liverpool says the fresh wave of strikes planned by the RMT on the Merseyrail network are a “disgrace’ and says they should be called off.
And Frank McKenna, chief executive of Downtown in Business, claims the “totally unjustified” action is motivated not by local concerns but by the election for the union’s general secretary.
Late last month the RMT announced there would be six one-day walkouts starting on Saturday, August 24 and stretching into September and October in a resumption of a bitter dispute that saw walkouts in 2017 and 2018.
Merseyrail is due to introduce a new £460m fleet of trains in 2020 that do not require both a driver and a guard. The train operator promised that all of the existing guards would be redeployed into other roles but the RMT insisted the loss of the second member of staff would compromise the safety of passengers.
In summer 2018 the action was put on hold as RMT, Merseyrail and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority agreed to talks via the conciliation service ACAS. However, the fresh dispute, condemned by both Merseyrail and City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, is over who will be responsible for opening and closing doors on the new trains.
Calling the new strikes, RMT general secretary, Mick Cash said: “After 15 months of difficult negotiations with Merseyrail at ACAS we have reached a point where our members feel so strongly that the proposed method of dispatch for the new trains is a less safe option that they are prepared to go back to the picket lines and demand an operational role that applies to all Merseyrail stations that the new trains call at.”
But Mr McKenna said the initial concerns of the RMT locally had been addressed by Merseyrail and the combined authority at “not inconsiderable cost” and that he understood the revised arrangements were acceptable to the Liverpool workforce but had been rejected by the RMT at a national level.
Moved the goalposts
He added: “They have moved the goalposts not because they are concerned about commuter safety, or even the future job security of their members. They are forcing a dispute, in my opinion, because the leadership is trying to outbid challengers in the current general secretary ballot in the contest to show who is more militant
“Merseyrail is set to introduce state-of-the-art trains next year, replacing the current fleet which is forty years old. The trains will be publicly and locally owned and the investment in the new stock is in the region of £460m. We should be celebrating this tremendous initiative, but instead the internal national politics of a Trade Union is taking the shine off a truly innovative project.
“Aside from the fact that the action is unjustified, we must also express concern that though this dispute is being actioned by London-based decision-makers it is Liverpool and the city’s citizens, business community and reputation that is taking a huge hit. It is a disgrace and I hope the union has the sense to call off these damaging strikes.”
Dates for the one-day strikes, are:
- Saturday, August 24 – 00.01-23.59 hrs
- Tuesday, September 3 – 00.01-23.59 hrs
- Thursday, September 5 – 00.01-23.59 hrs
- Monday, September 30 – 00.01-23.59 hrs
- Wednesday, October 2 – 00.01-23.59 hrs
- Friday, October 4 – 00.01-23.59 hrs