It's Not About The Doors!

Exposing DfT/Govia Lies


October 2017


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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