PASSENGERS are facing a double whammy of strikes later this month when bus and train workers walk out on the same day.
On Tuesday 18th June Bluestar bus drivers will take industrial action over pay as union members on South Western Railway also start a five-day stoppage in a row over the future of guards on trains.
Both strikes are by the RMT union which voted in support of the walkouts amid talks with company managers breaking down.
The dispute, which has been ongoing for more than year, has been acrimoniously reignited after strikes were suspended in February following a significant breakthrough in talks between the RMT and SWR.
But the RMT has now accused SWR of “dragging their heels” and action is back on with a continuous five-day strike set to run from 18th to 22nd June.
The RMT says that although SWR has promised to “roster” a guard on every train, that does not guarantee cover if someone calls in sick, for example. It claims passenger safety will be put at risk – something the train company denies.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members are angry and frustrated that despite suspending action in good faith, and entering into talks in a positive and constructive manner, SWR have dragged their heels and failed to bolt down an agreement that matches up to our expectations on the guard guarantee.
“For more than three months we have sought to negotiate a conclusion to this dispute and it is wholly down to the management side that the core issue of the safety critical competencies and the role of the guard has not been signed off.”
In response, SWR said further talks via mediator ACAS were in the diary for 17th June and accused the RMT of a lack of “genuine commitment to finding a solution”.
Urging the union to call off the strike, a spokesperson said: “The union has always said it wanted us to keep the guard on every train which is what we have offered as part of a framework agreement.
“Now we want to move the conversation on to how we operate our new trains and take advantage of the new technology on board to benefit our customers.”
He added: “We remain committed to finding a solution that will help us build a better railway for our customers and colleagues alike. If these strikes go ahead, they will cause needless disruption.”
The first day of the train strike coincides with action by Bluestar drivers, cleaners and ticket office staff, who the RMT said had voted by 87% in favour of a 24-hour walkout.
Local Bluestar services connect Totton and the Waterside to Southampton, as well as a circular route between Netley Marsh, Woodlands, Bartley and Calmore.
Mr Cash said: “Now that the company can see the determination of our members to be rewarded properly for the work that they do, I call on the company to get back round the table with a realistic proposal to settle the dispute. The union remains available for talks.”
Bluestar managing director Andrew Wickham said the company had offered a “fair” above-inflation pay rise but was open to further talks.
He said: “In view of the importance of bus services in the city, we are very keen to avoid a strike because of its potential disruptive impact on some journeys. It would also lead to loss of pay for those taking part.
“If the action is confirmed, Bluestar will continue to run services on 18th June – although these may be reduced compared to normal operations.”