Virgin Trains East Coast Workers To Strike

13 April 2017, 11:03 | Updated: 13 April 2017, 12:02

Virgin Train

Workers on Virgin Trains East Coast are to stage a 48-hour strike in a row over the role of guards and jobs.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out on April 28 and 29, following strikes at three other train operators last Saturday in bitter rows over staffing.

The RMT said it has been seeking an "explicit clarification'' from Virgin on the retention of the role of the guard.

It wants a specific assurance that a new position of train manager will retain the safety- critical roles and training currently held by train guards.

A statement said: "The only response the company has offered is to repeat the vague and non-committal mantra of 'within our discussions we have confirmed that the safety-critical duties of the guard will remain on the train'.

"This mealy-mouthed form of words gives no reassurance to RMT members in the front line nor any protection from the possible introduction of driver-only operation.''

The RMT said consultation over "widespread on-board changes'' has been going on for more than a year, adding that the company had implemented the changes from March with no agreement with the union.

"The new service is not fit for purpose and has turned into a chaotic shambles, with untrained staff forced into roles and the whole train crew left to work it out for themselves,'' the union said.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "It is simply appalling that Virgin East Coast have refused to give the most basic assurances on the safety-critical role of the guard on their trains continuing into the future.

"Instead they have sought to fob us off with meaningless statements that are, frankly, an insult to the intelligence of our members who are charged with maintaining safety on board these intercity trains.

"On top of that, chaotic operational changes have been bulldozed through and there is now an additional threat to stations and travel centre staff that leaves our members on a knife-edge.

"This contemptuous attitude has unleashed a tidal wave of anger at the grassroots and the action we have agreed to put on is simply a reflection of the disgust and frustration at months of ducking and diving by the company.''

The RMT is embroiled in disputes over staffing and driver-only trains at Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Trains North.

Its members at the three operators staged a 24-hour strike last Saturday, the day of the Grand National.

The union has taken 31 days of strike action against Southern in the past year, although fresh talks will be held later this month to try to break the deadlock.

Talks about staffing on new Merseyrail trains are also due to go ahead.

A Virgin Trains spokesman said: "We have not received formal notification from the RMT about any industrial action.''

Virgin Trains said it will run a near-normal timetable during the industrial action.

The company said it has made changes to customer-facing roles on board train which will see a single person take responsibility for the "customer experience''.

"This will mean a better experience for customers. It also has zero impact on safety. We have repeatedly assured the RMT that the safety-critical role of the guard will remain on board, with the new train manager role taking responsibility,'' said a statement.

David Horne, managing director for Virgin Trains on the East Coast, said: "We have worked hard to ensure there are comprehensive contingency plans in place and I want to reassure our customers that our timetable will be almost completely unaffected during this walk-out, as well as during any subsequent strikes by the RMT.

"Passengers can book and plan their journeys as normal and with confidence.

"The changes we have made are part of the customer-centric revolution that's under way on the East Coast. We've already completely refreshed our entire fleet of trains with all new interiors, and next year we will have our ground-breaking Azuma trains coming into service.

"Alongside more modern trains, we want a modern customer service proposition - one that focuses firmly on the customer.

"The on-board changes came into force in March. Last week - the first full week since the changes - saw us achieve our second highest customer satisfaction score since taking over the franchise, so we are confident the changes are benefiting customers.

"With our guarantees that there will be no compulsory redundancies, no impact on safety and a near-normal timetable in place during the walk-outs, this pointless strike will cost RMT members pay for no reason, and we urge the union to rejoin us for further discussions.''