‘Christmas of discontent’ looms as rail workers follow Post Office staff on strike

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Thousands of employees affected as ‘severe disruption’ feared in separate disputes

Industrial action among rail staff and Post Office employees in the run-up to Christmas has been branded “unjustified” and “disappointing” by their employers.

Disruption looms over the festive period thanks to separate walkouts in industries that have been plagued by industrial relations disputes in recent years.

As part of an ongoing row with the Aslef and RMT unions over the removal of conductors from services, Southern is halting or limiting trains to and from London, among other routes, meaning thousands of employees can expect “severe disruption” travelling to work over the festive season.

RMT conductors are striking from today until Thursday, with separate walkouts on 19, 20 and 31 December. Aslef drivers will walkout on 13, 14 and 16 December, as well as refusing to work overtime until further notice. Employees are striking over the franchise’s plans to introduce driver-only operation, which they argue will threaten jobs, conditions and public safety.

Employers across the affected region are braced for disruption to daily commutes, while Southern’s parent company has applied to the High Court to bring the action to a halt. Southern director Alex Foulds said: “Regrettably, because of this wholly unnecessary and unjustified industrial action, there will be severe and significant disruption on our network from [today] and customers are advised that stations will be incredibly busy.”

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: ““We have always been happy to talk to the company, and we have always believed it is, or should be, possible to do a deal – as we did with ScotRail in Scotland –­ but it takes two to tango and the company has not been prepared to negotiate.”

Meanwhile, the Post Office is braced for more strikes as CWU union bosses meet to discuss their next steps following a walkout on Saturday. The union said this was the “best-supported action to date”.

It follows a long-running row over the franchising of Crown Post Offices, larger branches, job losses and the closure of a final salary pension scheme. Saturday represented the third strike in four months within the organisation, but further walkouts before Christmas have not been ruled out.

Post Office network and sales director Kevin Gilliland played down the threat. He said: “We have not received any formal notification of action from our unions and, should further action be taken, we can reassure our customers that at least 97 per cent of our network will be open for business as usual, on hand to provide them with the essential services and support that they need.”

Gilliland said proposed changes, which include moving some Post Offices into stores of high street retailer WHSmith, would help keep services widely available.

“We are disappointed that the unions are trying to unsettle customers as they prepare for Christmas, rather than engaging with us in talks to find a constructive way forward that will enable the Post Office to thrive for the long term.”

But the union said the Post Office was at “crisis point” and urged further talks. Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, said: “We have a simple demand – that the government pauses the cuts and brings stakeholders together for a structured period of talks to develop a plan that is about more than managing the decline of the service. Our members and the public deserve nothing less.”

Story via – http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/12/06/christmas-of-discontent-looms-as-rail-workers-follow-post-office-staff-on-strike.aspx

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