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.