Row over driver-only trains sparks vote for walkout and other industrial action

Merseyrail’s multi-million pound new fleet won’t pull in until 2020, but industrial action by staff, in a row over the new trains, will arrive next week, on March 7.

Rail union RMT announced this afternoon that its Merseyrail members have voted for action in a fight to retain safety-critical guards.

Merseyrail are completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers

Although Merseyrail say none of the guards will lose their jobs, they plan to have train doors operated by drivers.

From March 7 RMT members on Merseyrail will not work in their rest days for an indefinite period, and there will be strike action starting on Monday, March 13.

RMT also announced today that on the same date – March 13 – there will be a day long strike by its members on trains operated by Northern Rail in a similar row over train guards.

The union said its  members voted overwhelmingly for both strike action and action short of a strike, citing Merseyrail’s continued failure to provide cast iron assurances around the future of the safety critical role of the guard.  The union said 81.8 percent of members voted for strike action with 93.5 percent backing action short of a strike.

One of the driver-only operated trains which will be introduced in 2020

In addition, the union is kick starting a renewed campaign, involving the general public and targeting politicians across the area served by Merseyrail, aiming to garner support its fight for a guard guaranteed on each Merseyrail train.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “This ballot result sends out the clearest possible message to Merseyrail, Merseytravel and politicians across the area that RMT is prepared to stand up and fight for public safety and the guard guarantee.

“The company now has the best part of two weeks to sit down with us, address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and negotiate a settlement before the action commences.

“The union’s position on driver-only operation is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. It is the failure of Merseyrail to give guarantees on those basic principles that has led to the current dispute and the campaign of industrial action."

He went on: “RMT asked Merseyrail to give the union assurances that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. We set out clear deadlines giving the company ample time to give those assurances but the company have flatly refused to consider a guarantee of a second safety critical person on the new trains."

 “This dispute, and the industrial action announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened and to the union's deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit. The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety.

“Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of driver-only operated trains on their network. That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The union remains available for meaningful talks and we would expect Merseyrail to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”

Read more: 159 Merseyrail guards' jobs go as £460m fleet gets green light

Larry Neild