1. ITV Report

RMT: Southern sickness figures "fiction and dirty tricks"

Southern says it's had to cancel dozens of trains a day Credit: PA

A war of words has erupted between Southern Rail and the RMT union about sickness days.

Yesterday the company said it's had to cancel more than eighty trains a day because guards are going sick. But the union says the figures are fictional.

RMT accused the region's biggest train company, Southern, of inventing figures which the company claims show record numbers of guards are going sick.

The union​ says that ​"​figures Southern released yesterday are pure fiction cooked up by the GTR ​(Govia Thameslink Railway, the parent company of Southern)​ dirty-tricks department that bare no ‎relation to what our members are reporting on the ground."

​Southern says sickness levels have doubled with 1,000 sick days in the last month.

Guards have so far staged two strikes in a dispute over their role

It is thought the dispute has stemmed partly from the debate over guards no longer closing train doors. The plan is for train drivers to close doors in future. Guards have so far staged two strikes over the issue.

The union also warned that GTR are deliberately under-staffing services so that they can cancel them at the last minute and then ​"​try and lump the blame on the workforce as part of the dirty tricks operation."

In my 35 years in the trade union movement I have never before come across a train company that has such a raw, and vicious hatred of its front line workforce. These top bosses at French-owned GTR should release their own personal sickness, pay and perks records so that the public can judge their performance in the glare of publicity rather than these jokers taking pot shots at their safety-critical workforce anonymously from the shadows.

Anyone who uses Southern/GTR services knows that daily cancellations were a way of life long before the current dispute. The company have now resorted to running services deliberately short staffed so that they can knock lumps out of the workforce when they are inevitably pulled. They are a disgrace and they have chosen to go to war with their staff and passengers instead of getting on with running a safe and reliable railway.

– RMT General Secretary Mick Cash
Southern says passengers 'deserve to know the​ ​reasons' behind an unusually high level of train cancellations Credit: PA

Caroline Ansell ​​MP said "​I fail to see how this dispute and its series of claims and counter claims is doing any good to either the RMT or Govia Thameslink.

It’s certainly doing great harm to fed up rail passengers, some of whom had to endure up to a three-hour journey last night from London Victoria to Eastbourne amid staff shortages and cancelled trains."

Southern​ said it does not usually release such information, but said passengers deserve to know the​ ​reasons behind the unusually high level of train cancellations they are presently​ ​experiencing.

It added: "For those conductors who are ill, the company is offering all the support we are able to and working out how they can get back to work. But these figures show a remarkable and​ ​unprecedented level of sickness absence which commenced at the time of the first strike."