Prime Minister Theresa May has the power to end the dispute engulfing Southern services tonight, one Sussex council leader has suggested.
According to the BBC a spokesman for the PM said she was ‘extremely concerned’ about the impact of ‘unnecessary’ walkouts on passengers.
Train drivers’ union ASLEF is due to hold strikes three days this week, with rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway warning that no Southern trains will run on these dates if they go ahead.
Peter Lamb, Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council said on Twitter: “If Biffa couldn’t collect Crawley’s bins I’d end our contract. The PM has the power to resolve Southern tonight.”
He added: “What Government creates a franchise which pays not to run trains? What company becomes dependent on voluntary overtime?”
Unlike many other franchises, GTR has a management contract and is paid a fixed sum by the Government to run Southern, Gatwick Express, and Thameslink trains.
Ministers have faced repeated calls to strip GTR of its contract, and over the last few weeks have been urged to intervene in the bitter dispute between the operator and the RMT union over plans to introduce driver-only operation on Souhern services.
GTR launched a High Court bid to halt the ASLEF strikes but this was thrown out last week, although the company was given permission to appeal.
However it has advised passengers not to travel tomorrow (Tuesday December 13) as the Court of Appeal decision is not due to be made until later this afternoon, and even if successful services will be very limited.
Angie Doll, passenger services director for Southern, said: “We hope for the sake of our passengers our application to the Court of Appeal is successful.
“Even if we are able to stop the strikes through the court, services will still be very heavily impacted tomorrow.
“We will work through the night to try and provide as many services as possible, but we are still advising passengers not to travel as we will not be able to offer a robust service they can rely on.
“We are sorry but the industrial action by ASLEF leaves us no viable alternative, but be assured we will do all we can overnight.”
In a letter to MPs sent this morning Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said that driver-only operation was ‘perfectly safe’ and described the biggest factor of disruption on non-strike days as being ‘unofficial work to rule’ by staff, as they had seen high levels of staff sickness and a doubling of broken down trains.
He explained how when he met with the general secretary of ASLEF he was promised ‘ten years of industrial action’.
Mr Grayling added: “I have therefore believed it better to avoid direct ministerial involvement in negotiations during the autumn, as my involvement would make the issues even more political than it is.”
He continued: “I am very committed to trying to solve this problem for you. I wish we were dealing with reasonable people on the union side. For all the shortcomings of the train operator - and there have been many - and the failures of the infrastructure - also many - it is difficult to resolve any of the other problems on this network while the union leadership seem hell bent on fermenting this dispute.
“We will continue to do everything we can to resolve things, and are looking carefully at all options to do so.”
In response Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said: “Instead of peddling the same old spin about political strikes and unofficial action, all of which is total nonsense, Chris Grayling should get out of his bunker and start taking direct and immediate responsibility.
“That is the way we can start to make progress in resolving the disputes on Southern Rail and he knows it.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, added: “The strikes this week are not, whatever Mr Grayling tries to suggest, politically motivated. We have a trade dispute with GTR / Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way. I think their motives are clear.”
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