It's Not About The Doors!

Exposing DfT/Govia Lies



Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary and member of the Labour Party’s National Executive, contributed an article to LabourList on the 16th November 2017 titled: “After 18 months of myths, let’s set the record straight on Southern Rail.”

This article by Mick Whelan is an attempt to convince those on the left of the political spectrum that ASLEF have negotiated an honourable deal to end their disputes on Southern Rail over the enforced extension of DOO, terms and conditions and pay, which safeguards both the interests of their members and the travelling public. The facts show this not to be the case, but instead highlight that the only improvement ASLEF negotiated during their many months of talks both at the TUC and at ACAS was an improved wage deal achieved at the expense of rail safety, accessibility and security.

Mr Whelan makes the following statement in his LabourList article:

“The agreement means we will have a second safety-trained person on every service covered by the agreement except in very exceptional circumstances. That person will have all the relevant safety competence, including the skills necessary to evacuate passengers in an emergency.”

Those ‘very exceptional’ circumstances when a service can run without a second person are:

  • late notification (defined as less than two hours before booking-on time) of sickness or the granting of emergency leave of absence at the start of duty.
  • when the second safety-trained person is displaced by service disruption, late running and/or driver/OBS error from misreading diagrams or being left behind on a platform.
  • when an OBS is unable to continue duty having commenced the booked diagram, through sickness or having to leave the service to assist with a customer service incident or emergency.

The amount of services which will operate without the second person on board due to staff being displaced by service disruption alone (service disruption can be: broken rail, failed train, signal failure, fatality, trespass, points failure, animals on the line, adverse weather etc etc etc) is in itself enough to make a mockery of Mick Whelan’s claim that it would only be under very exceptional circumstances that services would run without a second person.

It is also nonsense for Mick Whelan to claim “That person will have all the relevant safety competence, including the skills necessary to evacuate passengers in an emergency.” The safety competency training offered for the OBS role is vastly inferior to what applied to the Safety Critical Conductor role, hence why it was rejected by the RMT PRIOR to ASLEF undermining them by accepting it. Mick Whelan should also know that to evacuate customers safely the member of staff would require operational route knowledge, to be aware of line direction, line speed, track signals etc, a competency that the OBS do not hold at present and the company has stated that there are no plans for the OBS to hold such a competency in the future. Mick Whelan’s claim in the article that ASLEF secured permanent jobs and increased staffing levels for the OBS role is also inaccurate. The improvements that he claims ASLEF negotiated had already been sent to the RMT in the form of an offer months previously (16th May 2017). That offer was rejected by the RMT because it did not guarantee a second person on every train and the safety training offered was rightly deemed not to be of the required standard. ASLEF’s shameful action in undermining the RMT by selling this deal to its members on the back of a 28.5% pay increase, so that their NEC could walk away from the dispute, has serious implications for safety accessibility and security on the network.

To be able to fully appreciate the detrimental impact that this extension of DOO will have on the disabled, elderly and vulnerable it is necessary to look at what was in place prior to these government-inspired changes being implemented.

There were, prior to Peter Wilkinson and the DFT implementing their “improvement plan”, two distinct methods of operation on the Southern network, DOO (Driver Only Operation) and non DOO (guaranteed second Safety Critical trained person on board). DOO was confined to the Metro and the Brighton Mainline areas which consist mostly of larger staffed stations. The non DOO area covers more rural routes consisting of many smaller unstaffed or partially staffed stations.

The guarantee that within the non DOO area there would always be a second Safety Critical person on board gave not only an improved level of safety and security on the network but also ensured that the disabled, elderly and vulnerable could access rail services on the same bases as everyone else irrespective of what time of day or night they chose to travel and also provided for the necessary support they might require during their journey.

With the introduction of this “improvement plan” the disabled, elderly and vulnerable have lost their right to “turn up and go”. This was confirmed in a statement made by Mick Whelan: I believe Southern are suggesting that disabled people in England ring up 24 hours in advance of when they want to travel. The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off trains”.  Instead of turning up at railway stations and being able to access services the same as everyone else, be that for work, family or leisure activities, they must now  book 24 hours in advance if they board or alight at a station which is not staffed at all times. GTR’s 2017 DPPP (Disabled Passengers Protection Policy) states that failure to do this could result in a delay in excess of an hour to their journey.

This change affects Southern Rail customers boarding or alighting at over eighty (80) stations and has in the past months according to reports resulted in: passengers who require assistance to board services being left at stations, customers who require assistance during the journey left without help and customers who require assistance to alight from services being over carried as they were unable to get off at their stop.

Supporters of this change claim that it will improve reliability by enabling services to run DOO when the second member of staff is not available (Mick Whelan’s very exceptional circumstances). The justification for this is that it will improve service reliability for the majority of customers with only those who require assistance to board not being able to travel. Perhaps it is this version of “FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW” that has confused Mick Whelan into believing that in ratifying this plan he is carrying out Labour Party policy. What else could explains the actions of a man who within the last two years has made the following statements:

“We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO /DDO under any circumstances”.

“So there is no dubiety it is the policy of my organisation that there will be no agreement to extend DOO anywhere and even if DCO is agreed by other trade unions we will not be agreeing this method of operation either”

There would be uproar if local councils removed access ramps from buildings and closed disabled toilets to improve access and toilet facilities for the able bodied at the expense of the disabled, why then is it deemed acceptable to remove the right of the disabled to travel for work, family or leisure purposes at a time of their choosing and instead force them to book 24 hours in advance to improve service reliability for the other customers. The ability to turn up and go is essential to those with disabilities who are employed or are seeking employment, at a time when employers expect staff to be flexible with regard to their working hours.

This attack on the disabled, elderly and vulnerable has gone unchallenged by the Labour Party. It has a policy to stop any future DOO plans nationwide should they gain power at the next election but it has played no part in trying to secure the immediate reinstatement of the right of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable customers on Southern Rail to access rail services the same as everyone else. A right enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act. Instead the Labour Party remained silent as a member of their National Executive played a leading role in getting this attack on disabled access ratified.

Should an incident occur on a service running DOO under this “improvement plan” which results in death or injury to passengers or disabled customers on board the affected service being placed at risk or should a disabled customer come to harm due to being left behind on a cold deserted station, then the responsibility will rightly lie with this Tory Government, the DFT and ASLEF but the Labour Party will also find itself accused of complicity in this act due to Mick Whelan’s presence on it’s National Executive.

Questions will be asked regarding why the Labour Party remained silent when a member of their National Executive worked so hard to get ratification from his members for a deal which not only undermines rail safety and security but sets the rights of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable back many decades. Questions will be asked regarding the influence Mick Whelan’s presence on the Labour Party National Executive and the funding ASLEF give to the Labour Party played on the decision to remain silent as the disabled, elderly and vulnerable were forced off the rail network. It is right that trade unions should help fund a left of centre Labour Party but donations should not buy the Party’s silence should a union choose to support a Tory Government’s attack on the rights of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable.

It will not be enough for the Labour Party to claim that Mick Whelan’s role as General Secretary of ASLEF and his role on the National Executive of the Labour Party are independent of each other as Mick Whelan in his role as ASLEF General Secretary has recommended ratifying a method of work which unquestionably discriminates against the disabled, elderly and vulnerable by restricting their right to access rail services which conflicts with both the principles and the policies of the Labour Party. In his LabourList article he states: “We are pleased that our members, after careful consideration, and long and very hard negotiations, voted to accept this deal which works for the staff, and the company. We now look forward to working with Southern to restore good industrial relations and deliver the service that passengers in the region deserve”. ASLEF’s actions in supporting the Tory Government and the DFT with their attack on rail safety, accessibility and security will have caused irreparable damage to its credibility as a socially responsible trade union and unless the Labour Party is seen to act quickly and decisively on this matter it’s credibility as a party pledged to be “FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW” will suffer the same fate.

The Labour Party needs to end its silence and address these matters immediately if its promise to bring in a “new style of politics” is going to stand up to public scrutiny.


After committing one of the most shameful acts of betrayal in recent trade union history by supporting GTR, the DfT and this Tory government in extending driver only operation (DOO) for a pot of money ASLEF are now trying to deflect the responsibility for their betrayal  and the serious detriment it will cause the travelling public, rail workers and most shockingly of all the disabled ,elderly and vulnerable onto the RMT.

An article written by an ASLEF Executive Council member, Marz Colombini, states the following:

“Contrary to the view that some have expressed, acceptance of the resolution package has in no way whatsoever contributed to the demise of the guard on Southern services. The role of the guard had already been conceded, not by ASLEF but by our sister union who advised their guard members to sign new contracts of employment transferring them to the role of on board supervisor. Having encouraged their members to take on this new role, they then refused to recognise that role and in doing so left those members unrepresented.

However what this agreement will deliver is an increase in the OBS establishment and additional recruitment into the grade. It will also ensure that those in the OBS grade will be employed on full contracts rather than zero hours or other precarious models. So rather than the guards, who had already been conceded, being sold out we have gone some way the strengthening the grade that remains.

We do not pretend that this is an ideal outcome, and we’ve been very clear to the company and the DfT that we do not see or accept this as a template for the industry, but we do see it as a specific resolution to a specific dispute and the best that could have been achieved under the circumstances. It has been a long and drawn out process with a series of very difficult decisions both for those who worked to deliver the resolution package and much more importantly for the ASLEF members who had to choose how to vote on it.”

If you intend to rewrite history it is unwise to do so when the truth is still fresh in so many peoples memories. I will address each of the three points made by Marz Colombini as he attempts to smear the RMT:

1) “The role of the guard had already been conceded, not by ASLEF but by our sister union who advised their guard members to sign new contracts of employment transferring them to the role of on board supervisor.”

The recommendation by the RMT that conductors should sign contracts moving to the OBS role changed members’ terms and conditions but had no effect on the dispute. Once Southern drivers were instructed by ASLEF to operate all services DOO from 2nd January 2017 it became immaterial if the new contracts were signed or not. If the new contracts had not been signed the second person would still not have been on the trains in a safety critical capacity and services would still have operated without the need for them to be on board. The only way that the transfer of the conductors to the OBS role could have had a damaging effect on the dispute, once ASLEF had conceded DOO, would have been if those transferring between roles were unable to continue with the industrial action. The RMT’s legal team correctly advised that this would not be the case hence why both conductors and OBS have been able to continue taking industrial action since 2nd January 2017.  xxx note to ASLEF members: this shows that accurate legal advice that supports industrial action is available should a union wish to access it.

2) “Having encouraged their members to take on this new role, they then refused to recognise that role and in doing so left those members unrepresented.”

The RMT has since the start of this dispute been trying to negotiate responsibly with GTR  to ensure that if a new role was to be introduced that it would safeguard Safety ,Accessibility and Security on the network. The RMT rightly took the stand that it would be a betrayal not only of the travelling public but also of their sisters and brothers in ASLEF, with whom they had signed a statement of intent in November 2015, if they were to recognise a grade which allowed for trains to run without the guarantee of a second person on board. The RMT is not concerned with what the role is called but with ensuring that it is a role that protects rail safety to the benefit of the travelling public and rail staff. ASLEF have been  desperate for the RMT to recognise the OBS role in its present form so that they could claim that it was the RMT who broke the pact of 2015, which they would then use to justify their own shameful sell out.

The vast majority of ex-conductors working in the OBS role fully support the RMT in its efforts to secure the safety critical responsibilities for the role along with the guarantee that services will not operate without a second person on board, before recognising the OBS role and ending the dispute. The RMT’s efforts in this regard have been constantly undermined by ASLEF who have been prepared to use safety, accessibility, and security as mere bargaining chips to secure a pay rise with which to bribe Southern drivers and therefore enable the union to extricate itself from the dispute on Southern Rail.

3) “However what this agreement will deliver is an increase in the OBS establishment and additional recruitment into the grade. It will also ensure that those in the OBS grade will be employed on full contracts rather than zero hours or other precarious models. So rather than the guards, who had already been conceded, being sold out we have gone some way the strengthening the grade that remains.”

The truth is that ASLEF have negotiated nothing in this deal apart from a wage rise which they have funded by betraying rail travellers including the disabled, elderly, vulnerable and their fellow rail workers.

Every advancement they claim to have made with regard to the OBS role had already been conceded by the company in their meetings with the RMT. This is not a matter of opinion it is a matter of documented fact. On 16th May 2017 GTR sent out a formal offer to the RMT which, as well as confirming that OBS would be on full time contracts, also confirmed the safety role of the OBS including: evacuation, fire, use of GSMR Radio in emergency, passenger safety security, faults, pass com reset, hot weather contingency, and if Safety Critical Medical passed they would have a company track safety qualification and provide dispatch assistance in degraded conditions. Every improvement ASLEF claim to have secured through their extensive negotiations had already been sent out by GTR to the RMT in the form of an offer months previously.

This proves beyond any shadow of doubt that the claim by Marz Colombni that the months ASLEF spent in negotiations was not just about the pay rise, but was also about securing an enhanced safety role for the OBS, is utter nonsense, IT WAS ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY. ASLEF undermined the RMT by instructing their drivers to operate services DOO AND accepting a job description for the OBS which the RMT had already rejected as inadequate.

There were a number of points in the company document the RMT could not accept as they compromised safety, accessibility and security on the network. These included, amongst others, no assurance of a guaranteed second person on every train without exception and the introduction of a Company Track Safety Qualification as opposed to the industry recognised PTS Qualification.

It must now be crystal clear to everyone, even the most ardent fans of ASLEF, that the reason they did not want the RMT involved in the months of negotiations at the TUC and ACAS was because they were intent in undermining the RMT’s fight for a safe railway. They wanted the opportunity that being in the talks alone afforded them to sell the “family silver” so that they could accumulate a big enough pot of money with which to bribe Southern drivers to end the dispute.

To ensure there is no way left for anyone within ASLEF to continue to try and deflect the blame on to others, let’s remember ASLEF’s proud boasts at the outset of this dispute:

“So there is no dubiety it is the policy of my organisation that there will be no agreement to extend DOO anywhere and even if DCO is agreed by other trade unions we will not be agreeing this method of operation either.”

“We are completely opposed to Driver Only Operation and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) / Drive Door Operation (DDO), throughout the network.”

“We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO/DDO under any circumstances”.

ASLEF’s reputation after their capitulation in this dispute is on a par with Nick Clegg’s, whose name is now synonymous with treachery and betrayal after his infamous tuition fees sell out , when leader of the Lib Dems. Both gave a cast iron guarantee to fight for a cause then when their false promises had served their personal objectives they betrayed all those who had supported them. It is interesting that Marz Colombini chooses to lift justifications for ASLEF’s actions straight from the Nick Clegg handbook:

Nick Clegg: 

“This may not have been the policy my party wanted”. 

“I made absolutely sure that it wouldn’t turn a degree into a luxury for the very rich”.

“Clegg then argued his party had implemented a series of reforms to the original policy that made the policy far less punishing to the poor.”

Marz Colombini:

“We do not pretend that this is an ideal outcome.”
“So rather than the guards, who had already been conceded, being sold out we have gone some way to strengthening the grade that remains”.

With the enthusiasm ASLEF’s National Executive have shown in choosing to embrace both Nick Clegg’s excuses and ethical standards it will come as no surprise that there is talk of them releasing a film before Christmas called “CLEGGIES ON A TRAIN“, it is XXX RATED but don’t be alarmed they don’t take their clothes off they are just kissing their credibility goodbye.

It’s important that all rail staff who care about Safety, Accessibility and Security don’t become “CLEGGIES ON A TRAIN” but instead support the RMT’s fight to “KEEP A SAFETY QUALIFIED SECOND PERSON ON EVERY TRAIN WITHOUT EXCEPTION”. 






The FBU says the move to driver-only trains could compromise the information gathering process when firefighters are called to emergencies on train lines. They say it is often the guards who provide vital first-hand information to fire crews.

Mark Rowe, regional secretary of the FBU in the North West, said:

“Firefighters recognise and understand the dangers that driver-only trains can pose to rail travellers. If the fire service is called out to an emergency on the tracks, it is the guards who provide us with intelligence on arrival, who have moved passengers to safe areas and kept them calm. This helps firefighters do their job effectively and efficiently.

“Firefighters have seen their numbers cut by nearly a quarter nationally since 2010. This means there are fewer firefighters and fire engines that are immediately available. Response times have also slowed as a consequence of station closures so the role of the guard in providing that initial assistance is even more important now than ever before.

“Every passenger needs the assurance that their journey will be safe and secure with trained assistance available if and when it is needed. Safety should not be the first victim when cutting costs. Firefighters fully support the RMT in their campaign to keep the guards. We would urge the government to listen.”

Mark Rowe of the Fire Brigades Union highlights the impact ASLEF’s betrayal will have on rail safety. The safety of customers and staff will be seriously compromised due to the lack of assistance available to emergency service personnel attending rail incidents. The safety critical trained guard/conductor/OBS performs the vital roles of both ensuring the safety of the customers prior to the arrival of the emergency services and once the emergency service personnel arrive at the incident site ensuring they are given the necessary first hand information to enable them to get on with saving lives.

The vital assistance that a second person on board a train provides to both the emergency service personnel who put their lives on the line at times of serious incidents, and to the disabled elderly and vulnerable during their rail journey highlights why ASLEF’s act of betrayal will have such serious repercussions for everyone involved in the rail industry.

It is essential that we bring our dispute to a successful conclusion so it is vital that the many leaders we have in our ranks, at both national and local level, rise to the challenge that ASLEF’s capitulation could have for our dispute.

We need to ensure that we put forward our arguments for continuing the dispute in a calm responsible fashion and keep the members fully involved in decision making and apprised of developments. We need to challenge the idea that giving up would provide a simple answer to our problems by explaining the damaging effect such a decision would have on our ability to influence our working conditions in the future along with the detrimental effect such a decision would have on Safety, Accessibility and Security on the network.




Today has seen the first of two days of strike action on Southern rail as we continue our fight to ensure that we can work in an environment free from harassment and bullying  and that we can provide a service that prioritises Safety, Accessibility and Security.
This afternoon we have also had confirmation that the majority of Southern drivers have chosen to ignore the plight of the disabled along with the detrimental effects DOO has on rail safety and security to join forces with GTR to help them implement their plans.
We have had to face many days like this during our protracted dispute. When the dispute began back in April 2016 ASLEF were pledging that they would be leading the fight for a safe railway by opposing any extension of DOO. The reality has of course been very different. During the past 20 months that we having been fighting this dispute ASLEF, for one reason or another, have failed to make it onto the battlefield. They have been left looking like playground bullies who for a long time strutted about bossing the playground however when they were eventually challenged they turned tail and slunk away. They have surrendered their principles, surrendered their policies, disregarded the disabled and have voted to ratify a method of work which they acknowledge to be unsafe, all to secure a inflation busting pay rise .Their actions will be viewed by many as an affront to Trade Unionism and justification for  the insults thrown at them by Peter Wilkinson. Some drivers may decide that it will lessen their shame if we also give up our dispute so we must ensure that we don’t allow them to undermine our solidarity. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into thinking that there is an easy answer to our problems. 
I have always pledged to be honest with you in these emails and the truth at this time is that we must continue the fight. The harassment and bullying I refer to is not something which may happen in the future, it is happening now. Take for example “targets” for ticket sales. This is something that we have successfully opposed over the years. Not to defend those failing to do their jobs but to ensure that staff were not put at risk by feeling forced into putting revenue before their personal safety. Here is a quote from an email management are sending out to staff Oct/Nov 2017: As you know I now have to monitor all revenue sales and numbers of tickets to ensure all the team are reaching an average based on overall figures, this average is 15 tickets a day and £100 or more a day. 
This management dictate will lead to an inevitable increase in assaults as staff try to comply with the company’s demands. Then to stop their assault figures going through the roof the company will tell staff who report assaults that they are not suited their role and manage them out of their job, other staff then refrain from reporting assaults for fear of losing their jobs. This has been tried by the company previously. We needed a strong union to protect members when the company tried this in the past and we will require the same strength if we are going to be able to address this style of management going forward. If we do nothing staff who get assaulted will be managed out of a job, staff who are made ill by the excessive enforced overtime and the negative working environment will be managed out of a job. It is only by being part of a strong well organised union that we will get the protection necessary to ensure we can work in a positive environment.
We must ensure that this announcement by ASLEF that Southern drivers have ended their dispute with GTR by voting to accept a pay deal linked to DOO, galvanises our resolve to ensure a successful conclusion to this dispute and resist the temptation of the “easy option”, which some will wish to pedal at this time. We must recognise  that  it is only our continued solidarity that will enable us to achieve our just demands.
There are just under 200 Southern drivers who rejected the offer because they recognised  the damage that it does to the rights of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable and the impact it has on rail safety and security. These drivers face a stark choice. They can either sit in mess rooms declaring that “they didn’t vote for it” or they can take positive action. Positive action means taking out membership of the RMT for the remainder of the dispute and fighting for their principles and beliefs.  It is not enough to declare “I didn’t vote for it ” while passively accepting the wage rise. We need everyone who is disgusted by the treatment that the disabled  elderly and vulnerable are now having to face and the serious implications this agreement has for safety and security to stand up and say
  “NOT  IN   MY   NAME
We must recognise this as the start of the next phase of our dispute. We must redouble our efforts to persuade our fellow frontline staff to stand up and fight for what they know is right. We must redouble our efforts in campaigning alongside the disability groups. We must redouble our efforts to galvanise political support. We must redouble our efforts to inform the travelling public regarding the very real threat that GTR’s plans pose to safety , accessibility and security.  
                          IF    WE    STAY   STRONG   AND     STAND    UNITED    WE   WILL   WIN 


After an incident on the evening of Friday 20th October, when a passenger fell down between the train and the platform the company made the following statement reported in the Croydon Advertiser on 02 November:

“We assign an OBS to every train where we previously had a conductor and they are all trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this – all OBSs would have acted in the same way.

“Furthermore, trains at East Croydon are dispatched by platform staff, who would have checked the length of the platform before telling the driver it was safe to leave.”

When the role was first introduced the OBS did not activate a key in the door dispatch panel when the train was near a station. Then the role was revised so that they could activate the door panel on the approach to the station to make announcements but it had to be the panel on the “off side” of the train so as to avoid confusion. Finally, with the realisation that there was no procedure in place to facilitate disabled access, we ended up with the present responsibilities for the role in that the OBS will activate the key on a near side panel and check the platform for customers who require assistance to board. The OBS play no part in the  train dispatch procedure and have not been trained to perform such a role and as a result of having no dispatch responsibilities an OBS cannot guarantee to get to a door panel and activate a key before the driver closes the doors and dispatches the train.

This makes the company statement “they are trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this – all OBS would have acted the same” seriously misleading and leaves OBS (and conductors carrying out OBS duties) at risk of being held legally responsible, with the potential for receiving a custodial sentence, should a customer suffer death or injury due to a platform dispatch incident.

In making such a statement GTR have put OBS and conductors covering OBS duties in an impossible position. GTR have shown that their intention is that should a serious incident happen during the train dispatch process that the company will claim that the OBS are trained to deal with, and are expected to deal with, such situations. This means that every OBS or conductor carrying out the role, tonight, tomorrow and every day from now are at risk. If they are unfortunate enough to be involved in such an incident the company are going to claim, “they are trained to act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this”, and it will be the member of staff who will face court proceedings.

As a matter of absolute urgency we need the RMT to demand:

Clarity from GTR and the ORR with regard to the reasonability of the OBS during the dispatch process. 

Clarity from GTR and the ORR with regard to the training OBS have received to “act quickly and appropriately in situations such as this”.

It is essential that frontline staff have a clear understanding regarding their role and responsibilities so it’s to be hoped that the RMT will demand IMMEDIATE action on these points as they could have life changing implications for any OBS/conductor unfortunate enough to be involved in a dispatch incident.



It is understandable with ASLEF recommending that their Southern drivers sell out on Safety, Accessibility and Security to achieve a 28.5% increase in salary, that questions will be asked with regard to the future of our dispute.

Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves why we voted to start this dispute back in April 2016. The cornerstone of this dispute has been to secure a second Safety Qualified Person on every train in the previous non DOO area. It is the second properly qualified person on the train service who provides for the safety of customers and staff, who ensures that our disabled and elderly customers can travel without having to book in advance and who is there to be a visible presence to reassure the vulnerable, deter anti social behaviour and to stop our trains been seen as a soft target by terrorists. These reasons are as valid today as they were back at the beginning of 2016

Present working conditions
I know many members are disgusted by the turns of duty that are being rostered. Shorter duties regularly get cancelled and get replaced by duties in excess of 10.5 hours and you then get given the bare minimum break between shifts leaving you exhausted. Regardless of the role you perform, OBS or conductor, you are aware that the company is operating without a concern for your welfare and if we were to give up the struggle this is exactly how things would remain.

The only way we can get these issues addressed is by ensuring that we stand together. It is only by remaining united that we will have the strong voice necessary to secure working conditions free from harassment and bullying and it is only by remaining united that we can help to bring about a Safe Accessible and Secure rail network.


Giving up is not the easy answer it may seem. Giving up does not enable us to address any of our Terms and Conditions issues. Giving up does not give us a meaningful voice in our future role. Giving up does not secure a “turn up and go” service and on board assistance for the disabled, elderly and vulnerable.

Giving up will however ensure that we are forced to continue to work excessive enforced overtime. Giving up will ensure that the company will be able to attack those that are sick, with their new “fast track” MFA (Managing for attendance) Procedure (being introduced at present without agreement from the RMT or TSSA Unions). Giving up will ensure that we work in an environment which encourages harassment and bullying as the preferred style of management instead of a style of management that supports and motivates staff. Giving up will mean that the disabled and elderly will be forced off the rail network by having to book 24 hours in advance and by not being  guaranteed any assistance to help them during the journey especially at times of delays or serious incidents (a 28.5% pay increase suddenly means a driver can provide the necessary care). Giving up will mean a less safe rail service for customers and staff. Giving up will mean a less secure rail service with the destaffing of the network continuing leaving the stations and trains to become magnets for anti social behaviour and viewed as soft targets for terrorists. For these reasons GIVING UP IS NOT AN OPTION.


To ensure that we can work in an environment free from harassment and bullying, an environment that will give us a say on our future terms and conditions and an environment that values our disabled and elderly customers and guarantees their right to access services without having to book in advance and providing them with the level of care they have the right to demand during their journey, we must ensure maximum support for the strike action on the 8th and 9th of November.

There will of course be a company letter sent out to members prior to the 8th/9th and it will in all likelihood contain a threat. We must make sure that we support each other so that any intimidation from the company does not break our solidarity. To go along with the threat will be the promise that should we end the dispute the company will look after our best interests.

Let’s look at their most recent commitment to looking after our best interests and how well they have done in fulfilling it. The company said that it was aware that those in the OBS grade were unhappy with their diagrams, so, prior to the October diagrams coming in to effect, OBS were selected from each depot to scrutinise them and implement improvements. This exercise has already been rendered meaningless. All that happens is that the daily diagrams are amended en masse especially at weekends and rewritten to suit the company. An attempt to gauge how many diagrams were being amended during the week as opposed to weekends, by looking at Brighton’s Daily sheets, was unsuccessful as the daily sheets for the 31st October and the 1st and 2nd of November showed all diagrams apart from the cover turns as being amended. It is unlikely that all diagrams were amended but it shows the chaos the company are in at present and the impact this has on working conditions. Amazingly the company still display a notice at the booking on point claiming they listened to staff and addressed their rostering issues.

The company will not address our legitimate grievances unless we stand together as part of an effective union. The OBS role cannot be recognised by the RMT until the end of the dispute. This however DOES NOT debar new OBS joining the RMT. What it means is that, if you are a  new OBS or someone like myself who has worked as a conductor for over 20 years before becoming an OBS, the RMT are not negotiating on our Terms and Conditions of Employment. We still get the rights to have union accompaniment/representation at any MFA or Disciplinary Hearings and still get access to all other union benefits including the Members’ Helpline and free legal advice. JOIN TODAY.

Our problems will not get resolved by the empty promises of the company but by having a strong well organised workforce in every depot and all depots supporting one another so that the Company can be held to account.

We must hope that the drivers refuse to give in to the bribery put forward by their union but whatever the outcome of their referendum we must ensure that we have picket lines at all seven depots on the 8th and 9th of November. Many drivers, as we know, are upset by the thought that they will have to leave disabled customers on platforms should this shoddy deal be accepted. There will be many drivers who feel that this offer is a breach of the promise made to the travelling public that the dispute would not be settled by money and who view the 28.5% pay offer as at the expense of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable. These drivers see this as a deplorable act by their union as they believe the disabled, elderly and vulnerable should have been able to look to ASLEF for support in retaining their rights to access rail services, not see their rights sold for a pay rise.

Other drivers will of course view the deal differently and it is important that we continue to respect the views of everyone. It is the responsibility of all of us that every individual must have the right to voice their opinions and be able to do so without the fear of harassment or intimidation as has been the case throughout this dispute. We must ensure that threats and intimidation are the tools of GTR and never get employed by us.

Any driver who cannot reconcile their personal beliefs with this offer and the damage they see it inflicting on others will only have our picket line to give them the opportunity to say “NOT IN MY NAME”.

Picket lines are therefore essential. If any depot is struggling with organising picket lines they should contact Head Office as I’m sure that there will be Officers/Executive Council Members who can assist.





Southern drivers are taking part in a referendum which offers them a stark choice. They must either accept the offer recommended by their union, and find themselves standing on the side of GTR/DfT and this discredited Tory government in waging an attack on the rights of the disabled, or reject the offer and join the fight for a Safe, Accessible and Secure rail network. 

Southern have updated their accessibility guides and maps to reflect that they have taken away the rights of the disabled  and elderly to access train services without booking in advance in the previous non DOO area, unless they are prepared to suffer a substantial delay to their journey. The fact that their right to “turn up and go” has been removed and Southern no longer have a requirement to provide this service has been kept from many of the disabled passengers who rely on the trains (so GTR don’t have to face the flack). They only become aware when they are left on a platform unable to access the service of their choice and even then they are led to believe this will be a rare occurrence rather than the norm it will become in the future.

GTR/Southern’s Disabled Passengers Protection Policy (DPPP) was updated in February 2017. It now states that they recommend customers requiring assistance book at least 12 hours in advance except for three circumstances when they advise giving 24 hours notice. One of the three circumstances is “travelling from an unstaffed station”. As the vast majority of the stations in the previous non DOO area are either completely unstaffed or only staffed for part of the day this means that disabled/elderly customers in that area not only lose the right to “turn up and go” but also have to suffer the added indignity of giving 24 hours notice as opposed to 12.

The fact that this removal by stealth of the right of the disabled and elderly to access rail services the same as everyone else (a right which is meant to be enshrined in the Equality Act 2010) has been carried out by GTR with the assistance of the DfT and a Tory government is shocking enough but when a trade union chooses to ignore its own principles and policies and seeks to get its members to ratify the company’s actions then the entire trade union and labour movement should be horrified and united in their condemnation. There can be little doubt that this will be the first time that a trade union in Britain has asked its members to ratify a Tory attack on the disabled and elderly. 

This is a political dispute which makes the way the drivers vote a political decision and not a decision about accepting or declining a wage offer. It is a choice about what side of the fence we choose to stand. Is it the side of the fence occupied by this far right Tory party which believes everything can be bought for the right price and that discriminating against the disabled and elderly is an acceptable way to reduce the costs on the rail network OR is it the side of the fence occupied by those who believe that the rights of the disabled and the elderly should not be removed to allow TOCs to pay more out to shareholders but that their rights should be protected and enhanced. 

Mick Whelan, Aslef General Secretary, summed this position up by stating “The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off a train.”

You only have to listen to the statements made by Mick Whelan to be left in no doubt that should this offer be accepted at referendum it will be the Southern drivers who are left to take the blame and it will be Southern drivers who will have to leave the disabled and elderly stranded on platforms, which at times will be deserted, dark, and cold. ASLEF will maintain their position of opposing the extension DOO due to it being less safe for customers and staff and discriminating against the disabled and claim that it was the Southern union branches who dictated the union’s actions and ensured that  the 28.5% pay offer and the extension of DOO went out as a joint package.

It is essential if we are to secure a Safe, Accessible and Secure rail network that this shameful deal is rejected. We must hope that Southern drivers show their union leadership that MEMBERS RUN UNIONS NOT BUREAUCRATS by rejecting the deal and joining the fight to defeat this extension of DOO and its damaging effects.



At a time when ASLEF are selling out on rail safety and accessibility, why is there no condemnation of their actions from the Labour Party? Equally worrying is the revelation that the Labour Party has been fully aware since March that Peter Wilkinson was under investigation for alleged conflict of interest by the National Audit Office but again failed to speak out. A Labour Party which has reinvented itself by claiming that they stand for a new style of politics must now give some answers. 

Why have they failed to make public this investigation into Peter Wilkinson and the role he played in GTR being awarded the contract? Why do they remain silent when Mick Whelan ASLEF General Secretary and member of the Labour Party’s National Executive is making deals with GTR which put at risk the safety of both  the travelling public and rail workers and removes the right from disabled customers to access rail services like everyone else as enshrined in the Equality Act.

ASLEF’s policy opposing DOO was laid out in a letter to the Transport Select Committee. The first two points in that letter are:

1. In our submission to the Committee in May 2016 ASLEF stated our opposition to Driver Only Operation (DOO) and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) and Driver Door Operation (DDO) across the British rail network. We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and we will not agree to the extension of DOO, DCO or DDO.

2. We draw attention to the safety implications of DOO which have been highlighted over the last 12 months with incidents at Hayes, South Croydon and Wickham where the absence of a guard has compromised passenger safety and the passenger rail experience. We would further contend that vulnerable passengers are reassured by a members of staff on the train particularly at a time when sexual assaults on the railway are at their highest ever levels.

Mick Whelan also laid out clearly his union’s policy on disabled access, in a Guardian interview on the 14th of January 2017:

“The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off a train.”

Aslef’s National Policy and their reasons for having that policy therefore can be in no doubt.

The question the Labour Party needs to ask their National Executive member Mr Whelan is, if you know that DOO is less safe for customers and staff and discriminates against the disabled, why have you worked with GTR to bring forward an agreement that extends DOO on the Southern franchise and combined it with a 28.5% pay rise to try and bribe Southern drivers to except this DOO extension, which they have twice previously rejected?

The Labour Party also needs to answer why despite being aware of an investigation into Peter Wilkinson for alleged conflict of interests they failed to make it public, even when the conclusions were not  released in the summer as first planned. After attempts by the DFT to withhold the decision on GTR’s claim of “force majeure” until after the end of the industrial action, there will be suspicions surrounding the delayed publication of this investigation, particularly at a time Aslef are scrambling about with GTR desperately trying to force through an agreement to the detriment of the industry and its customers. 

There is no issue with trade unions helping to fund a political party which is going to represent the interests of the working people. No union however should be allowed to buy the silence of the Labour Party to enable it to work with an employer to bring in a method of work which, in their letter to the Transport Select Committee they state, is “less safe for passengers and the workforce” and which removes the right of the disabled to “turn up and go”.

If the Labour Party want to convince the public that this time they really do want to bring about a new style of politics then they need to explain why they failed to act on these  two issues. Failure to explain their lack of action will lead people to the conclusion that we have a Labour Party in the image of Michael Foot but with the honesty and principles of Tony Blair.

The RMT should write to the Labour Party to demand answers to these questions and encourage others to do likewise. A party which will expect our support at a General Election should not remain silent on these matters.



In June 2017 ASLEF rejected a wage offer in excess of 23% because by accepting the  offer Drivers would also have had to accept working trains DOO under exceptional circumstances. Mick Whelan general secretary made the following statement to the press to clarify ASLEF’s position:

“Whelan added that he could “categorically state” that the company spokesman was not telling the truth when he said that Aslef asked GTR to package up an extension of DCO with pay.”

“That is a blatant lie and a deliberate and malicious attempt to mislead the passengers this company has been letting down, every day, since it got its franchise”.

After a further 4 months of talks, on Thursday October 19th ASLEF produced the latest proposal drawn up between themselves and GTR. This offer provides for a 28.5% wage increase over 5 years but still contains the requirement to work DOO under exceptional circumstances. Incredibly, considering Whelan’s statement in June, ASLEF are now putting a package combining DOO and pay out to referendum. What was a “blatant lie” in June becomes the truth in October.

Whelan, in an attempt to show some progress from 4 months of talks states:

“The proposed agreement on DOO means we will have a second safety-trained person on every train covered by this agreement except in exceptional circumstances. That person will have all the relevant safety competence including the skills to evacuate passengers in an emergency”.

It should be noted that it is not ASLEF’s role to negotiate new responsibilities for the OBS grade. ASLEF are doing this work in partnership with GTR which is allowing the company to continue to refuse to meet with the RMT. The Company refuse to hold discussions with the RMT due to the union rightly insisting on a second person on every affected service without exception to provide for a safe and accessible environment for both customers and staff. RMT members performing the OBS role will expect any changes to their role to be negotiated by their union not ASLEF.

There is nothing new in the offer of a safety trained second person on board every service except under exceptional circumstances. This was on the table in 2016 along with the second person being trained in track safety (company version, not the nationally recognised version, therefore rejected by the RMT) train evacuation and train dispatch assistance in degraded situations.

The RMT refused to entertain the option of agreeing to running trains DOO under exceptional circumstances because this means:

A) Drivers having to operate trains DOO when the network is degraded, the very time they require the help of a second person the most. They will be forced to operate DOO when the stations are over crowded, when passengers are at their most confused and therefore their most erratic and when the disabled, elderly and vulnerable will require the most assistance.

B) It removes the right to “turn up and go” from the disabled, elderly and vulnerable.

What possible justification can there be for permitting this method of operation (DOO) at the very time circumstances dictate that the driver requires the assistance of a second person the most? The answer is there is no justification for permitting this, hence why first GTR and then ASLEF recognised that the only way to get such a deal through was to combine it with a pay rise.

Despite past promises made by ASLEF to Southern drivers and the travelling public that any settlements on pay and DOO would be kept separate, ASLEF have made another u-turn and are sending out to referendum a packaged deal that means to access the pay rise Southern drivers will have to ratify DOO.

Conductors and OBS have withstood GTR withdrawing their travel passes, removing their parking permits, refusing mutual changeovers to facilitate caring responsibility, withholding monies due under the European Holiday payments and rejected a £2000 bribe to sell out their comrades but instead have remained united and have taken 37 days of strike action to ensure we have an environment that is safe for customers and employees, and respects the rights of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable to access the network the same as all other rail users. It is outrageous that they now have to witness ASLEF recommending to their Southern drivers that they sell out rail safety and the rights of the disabled for a 28.5% pay rise.

ASLEF entered into this dispute with Mick Whelan clearly laying out ASLEF’s policies and principles declaring:

1) “We are completely opposed to Driver Only Operation and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation (DCO)/Drive Door Operation (DDO), throughout the network.”

2) “We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO /DDO under any circumstances”.

3)”So there is no dubiety it is the policy of my organisation that there will be no agreement to extend DOO anywhere and even if DCO is agreed by other trade unions we will not be agreeing this method of operation either.”

4)“I haven’t seen one company director in the past 20 years who has got a fiduciary responsibility hauled in to the dock, had their job taken away or go to prison for it – but I have seen it happen to guards, platform staff and drivers.”

5)”I am calling on the train companies to stop taking staff off trains and stations , putting profits before passengers , and ensure all of our railway is safe.”  

6)”I believe Southern are suggesting that disabled people in England ring up 24 hours in advance of when they want to travel. The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off a train.”

ASLEF have sold out on each and every one of the above statements to get an inflation busting pay rise to put before their Southern drivers to enable the union to extricate itself from the DOO dispute. This is no longer about ASLEF trying to secure the best deal to protect the drivers’ interests today and into the future instead it is about ASLEF selling the family silver to accumulate a big enough pay pot to convince the drivers to “sell out” on rail safety and so allow ASLEF to walk away.

This is not a wage rise achieved by trade union strength (a point that will not be missed by the DFT as they look to implement personal contracts and the McNulty recommendations) but by ASLEF selling not only their own policies and beliefs but the family silver of the entire Southern workforce. 


Some may take the view that as DOO is already being operated across the network there is no issue with ratifying it to secure a pay rise. The difference is however that at present if an operating incident occurs causing harm to a member of the public the driver involved can point to the fact that they are operating DOO under duress, that argument cannot be used if you have ratified the method of operation to access a 28.5% pay rise. Similarly if a disabled customer is left on a cold, dark platform in the middle of winter a driver can at present explain to the customer that they are totally opposed to operating a service which discriminates against disabled travellers, not an argument they can use if they ratified the method of operation which leads to disabled being treated in such a callous manner to access the 28.5% salary boost.

Southern drivers have displayed immense courage in two previous referendums by refusing to be bullied into voting to accept recommendations from their National Executive that they knew to be wrong. They are proud ASLEF members but they also know that as members they are the union and it is their responsibility to ensure that the leadership follows the correct path.

It will be the hope of the vast majority of the travelling public, their fellow rail staff and especially disabled elderly and vulnerable customers that Southern drivers will find the courage necessary, for the third time, to stand up to their National Executive and reject this proposal which requires them to sell out on rail safety and disabled access in order to achieve their pay rise.


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