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Drivers vote 4 to 1 for Southern deal

But RMT warns agreement ‘institutionalises discrimination’

TRAIN drivers have overwhelmingly voted to accept a compromise deal to end their long-running dispute with Southern Rail.

Their union Aslef announced yesterday that 79.1 per cent backed the deal — which says trains should operate with an “on-board supervisor” in all but “exceptional circumstances” — on an 87.1 per cent turnout.

A bitter dispute has raged on Southern for more than 18 months over the company’s expansion of driver-only operation. Unions have said the practice compromises safety, disabled access and jobs.

Drivers rejected two previous deals struck between the company and management. Aslef says it has made significant progress in negotiations, and there are now just a few circumstances in which trains can run without the supervisors — many of whom were previously working as guards with operational responsibilities.

“The agreement means we will have a second safety-trained person on every train covered by this agreement except in exceptional circumstances,” Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said.

“That person will have all the relevant safety competence — including the skills to evacuate passengers in an emergency.”

The deal also includes a 28.5 per cent pay rise for drivers over the next five years. Mr Whelan said pay had been negotiated in “separate, but parallel, talks.”

But rail union RMT, which represents on-board supervisors still in dispute who were on strike yesterday, said: “This shoddy deal extends and institutionalises discrimination against disabled and older people.

“Where such passengers who required assistance were once guaranteed a second member of staff to assist, a new clause in this deal deliberately sets out where there is no on-board supervisor the driver will knowingly have to leave such passengers stranded on trains and stations. That is frankly appalling.

“RMT believes that a significant factor in delivering this result was the threat of massive legal costs levied on the union by [operator Govia Thameslink Railway] as a result of the anti-trade union laws.”

Southern chief operating officer Nick Brown said: “This dispute has been difficult for our passengers in particular and we are pleased that we can now move ahead and deliver stability by finally concluding this deal with Aslef.

“Our trains will be planned to have a second person on board and this has been the arrangement we have operated over the last year.”


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