Rail union RMT confirms there will be six one-day walkouts in a fresh dispute over who would be responsible for opening and closing doors on Merseyrail’s new trains. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has accused the RMT of “moving the goalposts” after the union reignited its long-running and bitter dispute with Merseyrail over the role of train guards.
RMT confirmed on Tuesday afternoon there would be six one-day walkouts starting on Saturday, August 24, and stretching into September and October with the union unhappy that drivers, not guards, will be responsible for opening and closing doors on the new Merseyrail train fleet.
The RMT staged a series of strikes in 2017 and 2018 after Merseyrail said its new £460m train fleet, due to come into service in 2021, would no longer require both a driver and a guard.
Merseyrail 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 – a message that resonated with large swathes of the Merseyside public.
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. At the beginning of August last year all sides agreed in principle the new fleet of trains will have a second member of staff on board each service.
However, the union said on Tuesday it had failed to reach agreement with Merseyrail over the safe method of train dispatch on the new train fleet.
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.
“Crucially the train drivers take the same view that the guard should be responsible for the safe dispatch of the train as they are now. It is these very guards and drivers that operate the trains day in and day out and if they are saying that they can’t accept the proposed method of operation then they must be listened to.”
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
In statement to LBN, Merseyrail said: “We are currently waiting for formal notification of strike action from the RMT before we make a statement, however if this is correct then it’s extremely disappointing.”
And in a much longer response, Mr Rotheram said: “This is a disappointing and in some ways surprising announcement given the many months of positive local negotiations and the memorandum of understanding agreed to by all parties last August.
“Support for a second, safety-critical person on the new Merseyrail trains was agreed in principle last year. I have made it clear that I want to see a full agreement reached which delivers on that commitment, protects jobs and is in the best interests of passengers.
“Since I inherited this dispute, I have been clear that a resolution can only be reached by both sides sitting around the negotiating table. That is why I pushed for Merseyrail and the RMT to enter talks at ACAS and it is this approach which has been delivering progress to date.
“Meaningful talks produced a negotiated agreement between the RMT and Merseyrail. RMT officials put forward proposals, relating to the role of the second on-board staff member and revisions to the current guards’ terms and conditions, as part of a package to resolve the dispute. It is not clear why these proposals are no longer acceptable to the union.
“I am still hopeful that a solution can be found. The issue was always about the need for a second, safety-critical member of staff to reassure passengers. That need has been recognised so I do not understand why an agreement cannot now be reached, in order that everyone can look forward to the introduction of our brand new trains – owned by us, the public.
“Given that the RMT have now twice rejected proposals which they themselves have negotiated with the employer – and which would guarantee a second safety-critical person on board every train – I think it would be helpful for them to set out clearly what their position now is, as it appears the goalposts keep moving.”