Industrial action has caused rail and bus delays across the North West this week
Workers from the First bus service and Northern Rail both went on strike this week in Manchester.
On Monday the 2nd of October, First bus drivers went on strike. Drivers working at the Rusholme and Bolton depots could be seen waving placards that read: “We demand fair pay.” Unite has claimed that First reneged on long-standing agreements with the union.
43 routes were affected by the drivers’ strike, delaying students and commuters alike. First have released a statement saying: “We’re extremely disappointed that staff from two of our depots have decided to take strike action despite a good offer being put forward.”
On Tuesday the 3rd of October, rail workers of the trade union RMT also took industrial action. Members of RMT at Southern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia and Northern Rail – Arriva Rail’s Northern franchise – were “out in force” picketing their employers. The industrial action is a result of the ongoing dispute over “safety concerns”.
The rail companies currently plan to scrap train conductors, also known as Guards, from their services. RMT see the removal of conductors from services as unsafe.
As part of a modernisation effort, Northern Rail are purchasing new rolling stock to achieve 50% driver-controlled trains by 2020. Current trains require a conductor to operate the doors and assist with passenger safety, whereas the new trains would not.
Daren Ireland, regional organiser for RMT North West, explained to the Mancunion that the RMT has “the firm view that passengers deserve a level of safety. Employers wish to cut standards and cut safety to boost the profit of shareholders.”
Mr Ireland noted that a conductor was critical to passenger safety and evacuation on the 4th of August 2017 when a train caught fire at St Helens. No one was injured in this incident.
Negotiations between Northern Rail and RMT have stalled. The rail company have been “uncooperative” according to Mr Ireland. In recent discussions, Northern Rail failed to send a director to discussions with the union — this was seen as an uncooperative gesture that resulted in the talks breaking down.
Paul Maynard, Under Secretary of State for the Department of Transport, accused RMT of “using passengers as pawns” in a political game. Mr Maynard insisted that “It’s not about safety either as the independent regulator has ruled that driver-controlled trains are safe.”
The dispute over train conductors has been resolved in several regions of the country already. Scottish rail company ScotRail were able to come to an agreement in which new trains would require a conductor. Transpennine Express also reached an agreement in which conductors will be retained on all trains.
Further rail strikes are planned on the 5th of October. Until a compromise can be achieved between the RMT and Northern rail, we can continue to expect delays.