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Chris Philp

Chris Philp is MP for Croydon South and a member of the Treasury Select Committee.

Meg Hillier, a senior Labour MP, admitted it yesterday. She said that the unions have gone too far and have “shot themselves in the foot.”

First and foremost, this is a reference to the strike on Southern Rail. An argument between the RMT and Aslef versus GTR (the Southern franchise holder) over who pushes the button to open and close the train door has resulted in 300,000 people being unable to get to work or see loved ones. This is set to continue for weeks.

The RMT and Aslef have been able to bring the service to its knees with both official strike days and unofficial action – where very high sickness claims, a work to rule and refusal to do standard overtime materially affect the service.

With Aslef (the drivers’ union) now also going on strike there are some weeks with days of no Southern Rail service at all – leaving most passengers unable to get to their destinations. On these strike days the rail operator’s best advice to travellers is to avoid travelling altogether.

Ostensibly these strikes are about whether the driver or the conductor pushes the button to open and close the doors. There are no safety issues in this dispute, there are no job losses and there are no cuts in salary. All trains with two staff rostered on board will continue to run with two members of staff.

Contrary to claims from the unions there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Driver Only Operated Doors are more dangerous than trains where the conductor controls the doors. Of the one and a half million trains in the last five years (one third of all surface trains) running with Driver Only Operated Doors systems there has not been a single fatal incident. London Underground runs with Driver Only Operated Doors on crowded and curved platforms and the Rail Regulator and the Rail Safety Standards Board says Driver Only Operated Doors are safe.

So what is the reason for the strikes? Some say that the RMT’s reason is that if conductors can no longer operate the doors then trains can run even on strike days. Sean Hoyle, the President of the RMT has said even more – he wants to “[B]ring down the bloody working class hating Government. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re all about.” This is part of his wider ideological desire “to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order” and that if trade unions “all spit together we can drown the bastards.”

As if this didn’t get the message across clearly enough, in September he said “left wing organisations are co-ordinating to bring the Government down. Shock horror, guess what? We bloody are!”

Despite this absurd rhetoric, I do accept the right for workers to strike. But on Critical Public Infrastructure this needs to be balanced with the rights of people to get to work or to see their loved ones.

Ordinary commuters are losing their jobs because of these strikes. Their home lives are under strain as they are unable to see their families due to the ridiculous hours they get home from work. People are being left tired and sick with stress every day that a Southern Rail strike takes place.

I am calling on the Government to legislate to stop this, not just on Southern Rail, but on all Critical Public Infrastructure (rail, tube, trams, buses, fire service, ambulances and the NHS).

I want to see three major changes to legislation to ensure proper balance:

1) Strikes on Critical Public Infrastructure should be brought before a High Court judge to decide whether the proposed strike action is “reasonable and proportionate” when the impact of the strikes is judged against the workers’ complaints. Case law would develop, but under my proposal a strike that holds thousands to ransom for months over who presses a button to open a door would probably not be considered reasonable or proportionate.

2) Strike action of Critical Pubic Infrastructure should allow 50 per cent operating capacity at all times. Similar laws to this already exist in Italy, Spain and Canada.

3) There should be mandatory mediation when a strike is called or when it is ongoing. This system works in America and will prevent both unions and companies from storming out of negotiations or using an unwillingness to negotiate as an excuse to drag out strike action until the very end.

These are reasonable measures that will ensure balance and fairness in strikes, between strikers and the public. I hope that the Government will introduce these measures at the first opportunity, so we can help people get to work and see their families while at the same time protecting the right to protest.

3 comments for: Chris Philp: Ministers must act now to stop railway strikes

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