Jo Coburn presents a debate on on the crisis in the railways of the south east. The Southern Rail strike is Britain's worst in 20 years and has caused misery for commuters.
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Exasperated commuters, unhealthily packed trains,
and companies forced out of business.
Britain's worst rail strike in 20 years has meant misery for hundreds
and thousands of people and tonight we are hosting a debate
on the crisis on Southern Rail.
The train fares are going up but the service has been not
been getting better.
The trains are ridiculous.
I don't know who's right and who's wrong.
Somebody has got to sort it out or something is going to have
to change and negotiate.
I try to empathise with why they are striking.
If the company gets round the table and we can hammer out a deal then
we can call off these strikes and get back to work.
We will try to get you onto the train.
It's really difficult to negotiate with another party who don't
I don't think the Prime Minister has any idea of the level of suffering
and pain that rail passengers and businesses are suffering.
There is only one body responsible for the current strike.
This is a strike from the trade unions.
Let me start by introducing our panel.
Mick Lynch is the assistant general secretary of the RMT.
Mr Lynch has said he is sorry that people have had to put
up with strike action but it is for the company
to get round the table and we can hammer out a deal.
Well, the man who says he is more than happy to hammer out a deal
with the unions is stood right next to Mick Lynch, and is
Charles Horton, the chief executive of Southern.
Huw Merriman MP is an influential member of the Transport Select
Committee, and we also have Caroline Pidgeon, chair
of the London Assembly's Transport Committee.
Now, without further delay, to coin a phrase, our first question
is from Dominic Morgan, a health care consultant from Hove
who commutes to Hammersmith.
As a daily commuter from Hove to London, I'm forced to stand
on packed trains when services are cancelled due
to industrial action.
The other day I saw an 85-year-old man sitting on the floor
because he couldn't physically get to the priority seats
just a few feet away because the train was so packed.
Do you acknowledge that your industrial action is causing
unprecedented disruption to the lives of ordinary working
people like myself and is also causing far more safety incidents
than would ever happen due to driver operated doors,
and how do you justify this?
This question goes to the very heart of this dispute.
Southern wants to bring in something called driver
only operated trains, DOO, where the driver rather
than the conductor opens and closes the doors.
It is an argument that has been destroying people's lives
for the past eight months because the company,
the union and the government cannot agree whether driver only operated
trains are safe.
Now, Mick Lynch, you note the regulator has said
that it is safe, so why are you striking?
To answer the gentleman's question, I am sorry and I am aware
of the unprecedented disruption and I do not want that to happen.
I want a settlement to this dispute based on a common-sense
approach from both parties, and we think that is available right
now, this afternoon, if Charles wants to go outside
and draft something up with me.
That settlement is available immediately.
What is stopping the settlement is the attitude of the company
towards changing the way that the trains are operated.
There are two modes of operating trains available
to this company to run.
Earlier last year, they chose to implement and then impose
a change to driver only operation.
We believe that is unsafe.
It is not about opening and closing doors.
That is one element of a conductor's role.
It is about an entire suite of safety critical competencies,
including evacuation, emergencies, fires, collisions.
All sorts of incidents which could happen on the railway
where a safety critical second person is vital to the welfare
of the passengers guaranteed to be on board.
That is what the dispute is about.
You have accepted that the rail regulator has said that driver only
operated trains are safe.
I accept they have said they are safe but they haven't
said they are safer.
They have never at any stage in this period said they are safer
than running with two people on board.
Two safety critical people.
But there are trains which already run with just drivers.
How many accidents have been on those trains?
30% of the services in Britain run with a driver only
The majority mode in Britain, the orthodox mode, is running
with two people on board.
The safety critical record of the driver only operation is not
as good as with a second person.
Trap and drag incidents on platforms are going up.
We had the incident at Watford a few weeks ago where trains collided
and the driver was incapacitated and trapped in the cab.
They couldn't move.
Let's put these things to Charles.
The guard evacuated that train, evacuated people, took care
of people that were injured, and coordinated the
That has got nothing to do with doors.
That is about having a competent person on board
to take care of the public in emergency situations.
Charles Horton, are you going to remove that second person
from Southern trains?
We are not.
I will come onto that...
If I can start by saying, I am deeply sorry for the inconvenience
caused to customers now and I think the union's action is grossly
disproportionate and I also think they are causing immeasurable damage
not only to passengers but also to the regional economy as well
and it is an appalling situation.
Coming back to the question you have asked me, no,
we are not removing a second person from the train.
Yes, you are.
In fact, there will be...
Hang on a second, Mick Lynch.
Let him say his piece and we will come back to you.
There will be a second safety trained person...
Not safety critical.
On more trains...
Guaranteed on every train?
Let him speak.
Are they guaranteed on every train?
Let him speak.
There will be a second safety trained person on more trains
than there were at the start of this dispute.
Do you take any responsibility for this crisis?
For this dispute?
It cannot all be the union's fault.
We are doing our level best to take this dispute sorted and right
throughout this whole process we have put a number
of compromises on the table...
What are they?
To try and get...
What are those compromises?
We put an 8-point plan to the RMT which was intended
to settle the dispute.
It gave guarantees around jobs, guarantees around pay,
guarantees for the future about how we would work.
I'm afraid they were unwilling to compromise.
Hang on a second.
Wait a minute.
Because the compromise that has been put to you is that the second
person will be guaranteed.
The second person, according to Charles Horton,
unless you think he is lying, is that a second person will be
guaranteed on the trains.
We will come to the safety critical point in just one moment.
Do you accept that?
Charles Horton will not guarantee a second person on every train.
Tell the public you are going to guarantee a safety critical
person on every train.
Let him answer.
Look into the camera and say it.
What we have guaranteed is that we build roster a second
-- What we have guaranteed is that we will roster a second
safety trained person on as many trains as had them before...
He won't say it.
Will you allow me to finish?
A second safety trained person on as many trains as we had
before this started.
In fact, we have recruited 100 additional people to make
sure that we do this.
And on top of that, what we will make sure is that those
second safety trained people are better able to look
after customers, because, freed up from operational tasks,
they are much better able to get through trains
and look after customers.
Which is what customers say they want.
Before I go back to the panel, and certainly to Huw Merriman
and Caroline Pidgeon, let's just hear a few more personal
stories from the audience.
If we can go to Emma Green from Littlehampton, who has
quit her job due to the strike.
Can you give us your story?
I started a new job in London, commuting.
I had been a commuter before so it wasn't new to me.
I am a single mum with an eight-year-old son.
In June when I started, literally from the first day,
I experienced horrendous delays, getting home on average 2.5 hours
after I'd left in office, and as bad as 4.5 hours.
With an eight-year-old son, a 3-, 4-, 4.5-hour
journey isn't acceptable.
So by July I had quit my job and taken a job closer to home,
losing myself ?7,000 a year and therefore putting my family
finances at risk as well.
But I did that so I could see my son because you could not get me
home on time to do so.
So my question to the panel is how many more people's lives
have to be affected?
How many more have to leave their jobs, lose their jobs
and have their family life significantly disrupted
as a result of your services?
May I just add, these are not purely down to strikes?
They were bad before the strikes started.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING.
Well, you can hear the strength of feeling.
The rights of passengers have got to be far more important than this
cheap political point-scoring that we have heard this evening
and I feel so frustrated, as a Southern passenger myself,
I know the pain, Emma, you are going through,
worrying whether you're going to get there to pick up your child on time,
if you are even going to make the nativity play,
because the driver doesn't show up for the train.
I am living this with you every day, and thousands
and thousands of passengers.
It is really affecting people on modest incomes.
If you are a higher earner, you may well be able
to work flexibly from home, but actually it is those people
who have got to go in to do the shift at the hospital,
the shift at the shop, they are the ones who are so
affected by this and are powerless with this dispute going on.
There were issues before.
Let's not beat about the bush.
GTR were very poor in terms of driver recruitment and I have
raised this many times with Charles and I know they are recruiting more,
but the unions have got to get a grip on this and get
round the table and come up with a deal because we are all suffering,
including your members will be suffering with their
pay packet being cut.
May I just say, this is not a choice between having a second safety
trained person on the train or not.
We are saying that there will be a second safety trained person
on these trains and we are also saying that there will be more
trains with a second safety trained person on them.
That is the case.
Before I come back...
When I sit opposite him in the negotiating room,
that is not the case.
What he says is, I cannot guarantee a person on every train and I am
going to run the trains without that second person.
I put it to you, Charles, if you guarantee that second
person on every train, we can get an agreement.
Every train that runs.
Can you guarantee that?
Then what we will do, we will define what that
person does, jointly, together, along with Aslef, we will
define what that person's role is.
Most employers in this country, as far as I know,
when they are paying the same wage for the same job, they want that
person to do as many tasks, take on as many
responsibilities as possible.
Let Charles Horton answer.
They refuse to do that.
They will not agree to guarantee...
Let him answer.
If they do that, we've got a deal.
Can you guarantee that?
So, to repeat what I've said to Mick Lynch in private
and in public is that we are going to have a second safety trained
person on more trains than at the start of the dispute.
What I will also say is that in certain predefined circumstances,
if we cannot get a second safety trained person to that train,
we will let that train go and we will get that person to that
train as quickly as possible, because what that means is that
customers suffer fewer delays, fewer cancellations, and fewer
disruptions to their journeys.
That is what they tell me they want.
Are those weasel words by Charles Horton?
Are those weasel words or do you think that really
constitutes a genuine offer, a change from what has
been going on?
I do, but I should just say I can understand why
the audience is so confused.
You sound like you're getting two conflicting points here.
What we have come to, and I have a lot of sympathy
with the unions...
I had a huge amount of sympathy with the unions on decision
-- I had a huge amount of sympathy with the unions on this issue
because I wanted a second member on the trains.
But if it is safe for a train to dispatch without that second
person on board then I didn't want my train on Southern to be
cancelled, and that is what this really comes down to.
So what Southern have said is that in exceptional circumstances
they would want that train to roll.
My point to the unions was you should have a sit-down
and draw out an agreement on what those exceptional
circumstances are, but they are refusing to do so.
That is what I find so frustrating.
Exceptional circumstances should be where if the second member of staff
is stuck further down in Dorking and the train has to go
and then pick him up then it continues to roll.
When it comes down to it, if Southern are putting more second
members of staff on board, and not only that, rather than them
being stuck on one carriage, opening and closing doors,
they can go and spend time with customers,
sell tickets, reassure, look after safety, then this
strikes me as better than what we had previously.
But they are not safety critical.
Right, OK, at that point, let's talk to Huw Merriman
a little bit about the role of the government, or the lack
of intervention by the government, as some people would put it.
We asked Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary,
and the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, to take part
tonight but they declined.
Should they have been here?
Should they have been here, Huw Merriman, to answer
the questions and the very tragic, actually, in some cases,
stories of people in the audience.
I think one of the difficulties is that if you also have a member
of the government here then you will end up with three people
having quite a bit of a bunfight.
I stand here before you as a member of the Transport Select Committee
to try and bring a little bit of balance and sort of some
technical ideas into this particular debate, so of course I can't speak
for them but, when it comes down to it, we are told this
issue is about safety, it is not about politics.
Therefore there has to be a technical solution for this rather
than a political intervention.
It is certainly the case that the government ministers
are highly focused, they work very closely with Southern to try to come
up with some of these proposals, so this guarantee on jobs,
and this guarantee on pay and indeed pay rises is one such idea.
Have we been let down by the government on this issue?
Shouldn't they have intervened earlier?
Again, you talk about intervention but it is not the government
that is refusing to drive trains which the independent safety
regulator has decreed are safe.
have Southern Rail with their track record.
This isn't one of the disputes, look back in the '80s where you had
a similar dispute in terms of time, the miners dispute where
you were looking at jobs being lost and an industry in decline.
This is an industry where passenger numbers have doubled and pay
and jobs have been guaranteed for the length of this franchise.
This is nothing like it.
It's hard for the government to come up with more.
The question may be whether Parliament has to give
the government more powers in legislation to bring
this matter to an end.
Mick Lynch, are you declaring war on the government?
Is this a bigger power play to try and injure or bring
down a Tory government?
As your colleague said, well, the RMT president,
Sean Hoyle reportedly said any trade unionist with any sense wants
to bring down this bloody working class-hating Tory
government, do you agree with him?
Sean Hoyle doesn't speak for the RMT.
This is about this dispute and this dispute is about safety.
Huw wants to give us guarantees about money and jobs,
we don't want those guarantees in this context, we want
a settlement on this dispute.
The dispute is being intervened in everyday by the government
because they are preventing a settlement because they want
to extend DOO all over the network and extend this principle,
set a principle.
They run this company directly, with Charles as their agent.
Are using this as a campaign to protect your jobs
and protect public services?
Sean Hoyle was speaking out of turn?
He is not correct in the context of this dispute, no.
Right, so he was wrong.
Does that stoke the fire of a wider political gain.
He has been quoted out of context.
How can you be quoted out of context?
He was speaking about another dispute a few months ago.
This context is that Chris Grayling is happy for this dispute
to carry on because he wants to smash the unions.
His senior official in the DFT has gone on record in a meeting
like this, saying it.
He used to work for Southern as a director, by the way.
We could get a settlement if they would come to the table
and say they guarantee a second person on every train.
Caroline Pidgeon, you would like to see Southern
stripped of the franchise?
I absolutely would and I would like to see Transport
for London running the suburban metro services over the next
few years and the other franchises within London.
We have seen where Transport for London run franchises in London
they have a company running it at a fixed price and they take
the fares risk, but we get fully staffed stations.
Isn't that what we want to see?
Fully staffed stations is what we want to see,
so people with disabilities can turn up and go.
The audience are heckling about the fact that
there is no evidence that
Transport for London would do a better job.
There have been three Mayors and they have all been dogged by RMT
strikes on the London Underground and it continues.
Absolutely, we have threats of strikes and strikes are happening
all the time but I really think in terms of suburban rail services,
having Transport for London and the Mayor directly
running those services, able to respond to local
concerns and having fully
staffed stations from first to last train it transforms the network
and we don't have that with some of the train operators at the moment
and I would like to see that in London and it really would help
people with mobility issues so they can turn up
and use any rail service like the rest of us.
Let's hear from Tim Loughton who has spoken about the company
and said it is a shambles.
Do you believe that they can resolve this dispute or they should be
stripped of their franchise?
I have no problem with them being stripped of the franchise
but the franchise was defective in the first place, frankly.
Nobody comes out of this strike well.
The franchise is too big to handle, it is almost a quarter of the
train-travelling public in this country.
I doubt whether any of the other train operating companies
could handle it in its current form and it needs to be broken up
and whether GTR remain in control of half of that I don't know
but the thing that is completely undermining any train operating
company running the service at the moment is a completely
unreasonable strike action.
It is crazy when we have Thameslink trains running
between London and Brighton, who are driver door only operator
trains and have been for some time without any safety considerations,
calling at the same stations on the same lines, and yet RMT
and Aslef are saying it would be safe for Southern
and Aslef are saying it wouldn't be safe for Southern
trains to do the same.
It is a complete and utter nonsense and what it comes down
to is a highly political strike.
What do you say to that?
It's a nonsense and you are exploiting the situation according
to Tim Loughton and other members of the audience.
Our members that live in Eastbourne and Horsham
and all the other depots are not raving militants,
the way they have been described, they are ordinary men and women,
career railway workers, who worry about their passengers.
That is why they are on strike and why they have been out for 28
days now and why they have turned down Charles Loughton's bribe.
days now and why they have turned down Charles Horton's bribe.
What the gentleman asked over there...
Why is it a bribe?
He said if you go away and be quiet we will give you ?2,000.
But that's not what he said.
But that's what he offered with his eight-point plan
we wouldn't take it.
Is that a bribe?
In the end is this a wider discussion for you and the unions,
about protecting jobs that aren't being taken away?
We'll go to Charles Horton and then come back to you. We made a
comprehensive eight-point offer which covered guarantees on jobs
and guaranteed methods of working and talked
about the training that we would give people.
Part of it was an offer...
We didn't ask for those.
If I may.
To help people through the transition.
We did say you can have a payment of ?2,000 to help you
with the transition.
Do you think you owe an apology to all the users of these routes?
I do apologise, but Charles must apologise as well.
He apologised at the beginning.
I do apologiese for the disruption.
If you go back to the beginning of this year there was no dispute
on Southern and Charles came forward with a plan to remove guards.
We told him before he did that, if you do that there will be trouble.
Aslef told him the same thing.
He chose to go forward.
The DFT try to get the Scottish Government to do the same thing.
The Scottish Transport Minister looked at it and said
"I'm not going there, I don't need to replace guards."
It said he's not going to make any money out of it,
he could have left the guards in place, had an efficient
service and run the system the way he wants to.
On the basis of Southern's performance, I've already read out
some of the statistics, you and some of your Conservative
colleagues and also Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, and Peter Carr,
the Labour MP, have said that Southern is a disgrace.
It has an appalling record.
Caroline Pidgeon is calling for the company to be
stripped of its franchise.
Why has the government not done something about a company
whose fare money it takes and whom the taxpayer has to fund
when you have to compensate commuters who do not get to work
or get home on time?
The way franchise agreements all work is they have a clause
within them that if the poor performance is not down
to the rail operator but down
to either Network Rail or unofficial orofficial industrial action
to either Network Rail or unofficial or official industrial action
and you cannot strip a franchise operator of that franchise.
The irony of the union action is we cannot tell whether this poor
performance is down to Southern's management, yet, because it is
currently still being investigated by the Department for Transport.
If the unions gave away on this issue and returned back to work
we could really see if Southern are capable of running the system.
We can't right now.
If I go to this gentleman in the second row.
My name is Steve and I'm from Eastbourne.
I'm an ex-train driver, up to about six years ago I worked
for Southern Rail who were a very good company to work for.
I worked at different depots and I have worked DOO and non-DOO
and I can say categorically you can run a train service DOO
but on the events that have happened to me over a period of years,
the travelling public are far less safe on the DOO train
that they are when there is a guard on-board.
I have had stabbings which couldn't be investigated early
enough and mass gang fights and inconvenience.
What you say about the 30% of trains and services in Britain
that are run on DOO?
In an ideal world they should all have a safety trained
guard and I think Charles is being economical with the truth
because you say you will put a second member of staff on board
but in exceptional circumstances it may not happen, well, I take
Huw's point that perhaps the union and Southern could decide
what is exceptional and what isn't otherwise it is subjective.
More importantly, please, at the moment the guards are safety
trained to a very high level which can include, for example,
leaving the train to late emergency protection, I believe.
leaving the train to lay emergency protection, I believe.
In the current climate, with the fear of terrorism,
will the new OBS be trained to exactly the same safety levels
that the current guards are?
What are the OBS?
Not relevant to the role, which I've heard your spokespeople say before.
What you say about being able
to state categorically what the exceptional
circumstances might be?
That was part of the offer we made to be RMT but they weren't
willing to talk about it.
Steve is right...
They are not trained safety critical staff.
They have the same status on that train as a passenger.
They cannot intervene with the protection of the railway,
they can't go on the track.
That is simply, simply untrue.
The on-board supervisors are trained in all emergency and evacuation
procedures on the train.
The only thing they are not trained to do is to use a very old-fashioned
procedure which involves going onto the track and laying
detonators after walking a mile and a quarter down the track,
which is a procedure which is rarely used now, if ever,
and actually has been superseded by trains now having a modern GSR
radio on there where the driver pushes one button and can
stop all trains around and about his train so that is
the reality of the situation.
I am sorry, when Mick keeps saying, safety trained, safety
trained, safety trained.
We are training our people...
Are you listening to each other?
When you speak, are you listening to what the other person says?
We listen to each other but we don't agree.
Do you listen with hands over your ears and say
you have an entrenched position and you are not moving.
This is both of you.
We can't go any further with the dilution of safety
regulation on the railway.
We are not prepared to be party to diluting safety
standards on the railway.
How do you get round this?
This is the incredibly frustrating piece.
Back in the summer, when I spoke to the leader of the RMT,
and I take my hat off to you, you negotiated a really good
deal for your members.
You've got job guarantees, but it must be right if the train
can safely move in exceptional circumstances, and that can't be
because there aren't enough second crew members employed,
it has to be that they are stuck somewhere else, then
surely we can sit down and write it, and I will help you write it.
To me we are not that far apart and yet we have 300,000 people
unable to get to work or study each day and it's madness.
How would you, if Transport for London were to take
over the running of these suburban
rail lines, how would you resolve
the London Underground strike action
that's happened with the RMT?
Clearly we need to have good industrial relations and they broken
down clearly between Southern and the unions and that is
for the Mayor of London
and TFL to develop good industrial relations and clearly at the moment
with threats of the strike on the Underground we
are not in that place.
With this dispute, would you accept Mick Lynch's proposal and demand
for a safety critical person, a second person in that role
on every train on Southern.
We have heard very clearly from Charles Horton that there
would be two people on every train.
The trains I am on don't have a second person and actually
I think we need to move forward and I think binding arbitration
should be legislated for so actually when we get these disputes
they should be resolved quickly.
You would be in the same position if you were in this
dispute, you accept that.
Charles, I say to you, if you give us that guarantee
and you guarantee a second person on each train,
we jointly define their safety critical competencies
and you guarantee they will be there we can go out the back
now and write a deal.
I've given you the papers already.
You can hear how much they want this to happen
and they have waited long enough.
Mick Lynch and Charles Horton, if you now have the opportunity,
as Mick Lynch has just said, there is a room just
to the side of the stage where you could thrash this out.
Would you do it?
Would you do it now, with Huw Merriman could sit
there and Caroline Pidgeon to join you and adjudicate.
Would you thrash out a deal?
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING.
You're a lawyer by trade, that could be helpful.
Could it work, seriously?
It is incredibly frustrating for you all and for me because you hear
a lot of differences but then you see they are not that far apart
but the reality is when you take them separately it
doesn't go anywhere so I absolutely agree that it would be fantastic
if the two parties could sit down but would also just put
things behind them and be reasonable with the approach,
which means if it is safe to have this practice then accept it
and if there is more that can be done to get the unions
where they need to be and make stations extra safe, then let's
accept it, it is possible.
At this point I would like to thank the panel and the audience
and you can continue the debate on BBC Radio London with Duncan
Barkes from 10pm tonight and all have your say now on the BBC
London Facebook page and on Twitter Southernstrike.
From all of us here, thank you and goodbye.
Hello, I'm Riz Lateef with your 90-second update.
Too many people go to A with minor problems.
That's according to the Health Secretary.
He said the target in England of seeing patients within four hours
was only meant to apply to urgent cases.
Jo Coburn presents a debate from the Chequer Mead Theatre in East Grinstead on the crisis in the railways of the south east. The Southern Rail strike is Britain's worst in 20 years. It has caused misery for hundreds of thousands of people, with exasperated commuters, crowded trains and companies forced out of business.