Southern Rail and ASLEF to meet for secret peace talks

The drivers union ASLEF will meet with Southern tomorrow for secret peace talks, ITV News Meridian can reveal.

However a strike by members of the RMT is still on for Wednesday. The company hopes to run seventy five per cent of services but between five and six hundred will be cancelled causing disruption for many thousands of passengers.

The talks will take place at a London hotel and will involve the ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan and a three persons team from GTR Southen led by Chief Operating Officer Nick Brown.

The talks will not involve the TUC or ACAS at this stage.

Last week drivers voted by a narrow majority to reject a peace deal which had been recommended for acceptance by union leaders.

The dispute centres on Driver Only Operation. While Southern agreed to roster a second person on every train, that had one before the dispute began, the union agreed that in "exceptional circumstances" a driver alone could operate a service. That has been rejected and puts the dispute back to square one.

The "exceptional circumstances" include a conductor or on-board supervisor (OBS) as many are now called being sick or late for a train becuase of disruption.

Southern wants the change so it no longer has to cancel some trains disrupting passengers. Drivers will continue to close train doors.

The changes have now been implemented.

The difficulty in resolving the dispute has been the issue of a guarneteed second member of staff on trains.

The RMT union insists a conductor should be on every train without fail and should not run without it. They say the second member of staff should be "safety critically" trained. They say without it passenger safety is at risk.

Southern say it is perfectly safe to operate a train with just the driver as around half of all services in the country are DOO. They say only on relatively few occasions will there not be a conductor and it is better to run the service than cancel a service and disrupt passengers. They insist there will be no job or pay cuts. The company has agreed to keep under review, and do all it can, to improve the quality of CCTV images from doors in the drivers cab after concern they could be difficult to see in bad weather.

On some occasions the OBS can help dispatch a train and Southern say they are safety trained.

The dispute is now ten months old and many fear it may never be fully settled.