Like me, you are probably wondering how the hell Southern Rail have managed to hang onto their franchise? The service is beyond parody, is slowly crippling the economy of the South East, raiding their customers’ bank accounts with extortionate fares and offering a service, even without the strikes, that is a world class joke. Firstly, the RMT and Aslef union leaders should be, fi guratively speaking, taken out and shot.
They have called the longest-running strike since the railways were privatised in 1966, having walked out in April over who closes the doors! Independent safety experts say it is safe. Over a third of trains across Britain operate in this way and have done so for 30 years or more. This is about protecting jobs, pure and simple, as technology is changing the way the entire world runs and trains are no different. The problem here is that the union bully boys are making their last stand and cannot back down without losing face, even though 99% of conductors have now accepted the new roles. It’s as if the original motive for a local strike has been pushed aside in a bigger fight against the government.
Everyone realises Southern is simply doing as it is told by the Department for Transport. Neither side can back down with honour intact.
Insiders tell me ministers will tough it out, overseeing long-overdue modernisation of working practices - as they see it. The unions believe safety will suffer. If they lose,their grip on the railway they will be weakened. Stuck in the middle, passengers are powerless to intervene.
The Department of Transport has a duty to intervene on behalf of the electorate. The South East has a GDP of £460 billion and is the economic powerhouse of the country but Transport Secretary Chris Grayling responded saying he did not think it was right for him to get involved in a strike which was “politically motivated. This is not a dispute between me and the unions,” he said. “I have actually met Aslef, I’ve met the TUC and I’ve met other unions but I don’t think it’s right and proper to insert myself into negotiations between a private company and a trade union.”
Wakey wakey Chris – we are citizens of the country and voted your sorry backside into office and do not deserve to be held hostage between a rubbish train operator and a union that is a throwback to the dark old days of a few under educated morons holding the entire country to ransom and destroying our industrial base.
Now, l suggest you get a firm hold on something to prevent you from falling over when l tell you that Chris Grayling now plans to give train operators control of track maintenance!! That means that Southern would not only screw up the trains but would wreck the rails too.
I was a judge at the Sussex Business Awards last month and Southern Rail was a sponsor. It was interesting to hear the entire room of 500 black tied business leaders boo when their logo came up on screen. Needless to say, no one from the company had the guts to appear and it was left to a local MP to do the honours. I have rarely ever heard such condemnation from business leaders at a public event. This strike is killing business and deeply affecting our lives.
Once the union leaders have been dealt with, we should turn to the company. There is a saying that a company gets the union it deserves and never can there be a more accurate saying than in this instance. I have talked to countless Southern Rail employees and not one of them has a good word to say about the way they are treated by the company.
Southern, which has admitted to parliament that it does not have enough drivers to operate its timetable, has told customers it expects services “to be severely disrupted on every day from December 6th until further notice.” THIS IS NOT BLOODY GOOD ENOUGH.
Their service was pretty damn poor before the strike with cancelled trains and timetables that read like the Beano comic book. The long-standing dispute has reached the point where even a group of Church of England bishops has attempted to intervene. In a letter, the bishops in Sussex called for an end to the “circle of blame”, saying the dispute was threatening the economic health and development of communities.
As l write, l hear that all parties have agreed to mediation at ACAS. Regardless of the outcome, nothing will get back our 6 months of hell and nothing but the immediate removal of Southern’s franchise, and a head or two rolling, will sate commuters anger or excuse the governments abject failure to protect our economy.
Shame on the unions, shame on the operating company and shame on the government – and a shame for commuters and all businesses in the region as we continue to be pawns in someone else’s pathetic game.
Southern Rail Stats
165 million - The number of passenger journeys served by Southern per year
39 - The average number of Southern conductors calling in ill each day at the height of the dispute, according to the company’s chief executive
40% - The increase in sick leave amongst Southern conductors in one month during the dispute
350 - The number of trains cancelled per day on an emergency timetable introduced in July 2016
0 - The number of times the company’s 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria service arrived at its scheduled time in 2014