Image: Chitrapa Image: Chitrapa

Southern Railway workers have begun a series of strikes, which is set to continue until Friday morning, in the long running dispute over the role of conductors.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union announced an escalation of industrial action which will bring fresh travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Although Southern Rail has warned passengers may be delayed up to 30 minutes and some trains cancelled, they said its services would run around 61% of its normal timetable.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: "Despite all of the threats and bullying from the company, RMT can confirm that the strike action is rock solid and determined again this morning across the Southern Rail network."

The dispute over plans to allow drivers to open and close train doors, which RMT said would affect passenger’s’ safety, is just the latest in the long-running dispute between RMT and Southern Rail. The rail company were recently advised to accept new contracts by the unions bosses.

Mr. Cash added: "Once again Southern have been peddling the lie that this dispute is about who opens and closes the doors when, in fact, it's about the retention of a guaranteed, second safety-critical member of staff, with the full range of safety competencies, on all current services. Despite all the spin and bluster the company refuse to give that guarantee."

Statistics suggest that as many as 300,000 workers will be affected daily by the strikes, meaning employers could be short of workers over the rest of the week.

Kate Palmer Assistant head of advisory on employment law at Peninsula advises employers speak to their employees about alternative arrangements if they are unable to get to work:

  • Working from home (this may only be viable if the employee is set up to work from home i.e. working from home will not significantly adversely affect productivity)
  • Agree a period of annual leave
  • Enforce annual leave (notice must be given of this; employer must give notice that is twice the length of the annual leave to be enforced i.e. two days’ notice of one day of leave. So technically, notice of Tuesday and Wednesday is needed to enforce annual leave on Thursday; Wednesday and Thursday is needed to enforce annual leave on Friday)
  • Permit the employee to use any time off in lieu they have banked
Ms. Palmer added: “The employee will be paid as normal if any of the above are used. Alternatively, arrange a temporary period of flexible working of earlier or later starts according to what may be more practical because of the trains.

“This may mean a week of unpleasant disruption for the employee but i) that is the effect intended by a strike but ii) employers are within their rights to expect that contractual obligations are still met if the employee wants to be paid as normal. Employers may be seen as the ‘bad guy’ if they cannot be flexible but the strike is not their fault.”