The rail union, the RMT has announced that it is holding more strikes on SWR over a long running dispute about the withdrawal of guards on trains.
The union already held a month of strikes through December over the same issue, and says that staff will walk out again on Monday 9th March and Thursday 12th March.
Due to how the strike is being timed though, there wont be any morning services on the following day either — so for commuters effectively they are striking all week, with disruption on the Mon, Tues, Thur and Fri.
The union has long stated that SWR should uphold an agreement made with its predecessor, South West Trains to guarantee two members of staff on all services. The union says that South Western Railway’s refusal to ensure that future services wont move to Driver Controlled Operation is the reason for the strike.
There is some dispute about whether having a guard on the trains makes a difference, with some bodies arguing that they are necessary for safety in case of problems and to act as reassurance for passengers, although the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) itself disagrees that they are needed for safety reasons.
In a statement, SWR said it has offered to keep guards on all trains and the union was “purely focussed on keeping control of train doors in a misguided attempt to hold power over the industry”.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said “It is wholly down to the management side that the core issue of the safety critical competencies and the role of the guard has not been agreed.”
The dispute has also seriously affected SWR’s finances, and the Department for Transport is putting in plans that could see the franchise revoked and handed over to the government’s own operator of last resort.
If that happened, in the sort term, passengers wouldn’t notice any difference, and as much of the impetus for the move to guard-free trains comes from the government itself, it’s unlikely that the union dispute would be resolved either.