Southern Rail row over staff absence escalates

Southern services have been cancelled during the dispute Credit: Picture: PA Images

The bitter dispute between Southern Rail and the unions intensified today with the rail operator accused of lying about cancelled services.

The RMT has written to Southern MD Charles Horton drawing attention to two services in the past few days that were cancelled and blamed on a shortage of staff. One of the services, the RMT said, is not supposed to be crewed by a conductor, the absence of which was given as a reason for the service being cancelled.

The real reason, the union claimed, was unfilled conductor vacancies. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The company are caught out red-handed today cancelling services that were fully staffed and blaming the guards for the cancellation of services that don’t even have guards on board.

"That is conclusive proof that the company are engineering the current shambles so that they can knock lumps out of their own staff."

But a Southern Rail spokesman said: "Both of these cases were nothing more than simple human error.

"In one, a train was cancelled because we wrongly thought the crew were not available. By the time the crew arrived for the service, it was too late to reinstate it. ‎In the other instance, an incorrect explanation was inadvertently given as the reason behind a cancellation.

"Both of these mistakes are regrettable, but must be seen in the context of unprecedented levels of staff sickness resulting in more than 80 train cancellations each day, and putting pressure on the staff who are at work.

‎"The accusation that we are deliberately cancelling services is quite simply ludicrous."