Peace breaks out, quietly, in SWR guards dispute

The long-running dispute between the RMT union and South Western Railway (SWR) over the role of guards has ended after union members ‘voted overwhelmingly’ in favour of a deal, according to SWR.

The union has not commented on the statement. However, it is reported to have accepted that train drivers will be responsible for opening the doors of new trains that allow this, having accepted SWR’s pledge that all trains would still have guards, who will now take on other passenger-facing tasks.

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An RMT picket in Farnham, Surrey, 2017

An SWR spokesperson said: ‘After extensive and constructive negotiations with the RMT, we can confirm our colleagues have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a deal to end the long-running dispute over the role of the guard.

‘This agreement is an important milestone on our journey to providing an even better experience for our customers, while providing certainty for our colleagues and the communities we serve. All parties can now move on from the disruption this dispute has caused and focus on welcoming our customers back to a more punctual, reliable and customer-friendly railway in the coming months.’

Years of industrial action culminated in RMT members striking for most of December 2019 and into January 2020, when new managing director Mark Hopwood, who has since returned to sister company GWR, pledged to resolve the dispute.

In March, just before the national lockdown, the union suspended a planned strike for new talks with SWR. Then the pandemic significantly cut the number of services being run over the past year.

It remains unclear how SWR’s reported pledge to keep a guard on all trains differs from what was being offered at the height of the dispute.

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