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Keep the guard on the train, keep the train safe

This petition had 2,663 supporters

 Southern trains have always had ‘guards’. In recent years, the companies have called them ‘conductors'. Now, they have started talking about ‘obs’ jobs instead – that is ‘on board supervisor’.

 Guards safeguard the train and the passengers. Conductors do that, and check and sell tickets. ‘On board supervisors’, according to Southern, ‘give all their attention to the customer’ – that means in practice, they are ticket-checkers and revenue protectors. They are after your money.

 At the moment, guards are ‘safety-critical staff’ – they are responsible for checking the doors prior to departure and generally keeping the train and the passengers safe, in touch with the control room, and standing ready to respond to alarm calls from passengers or driver. This means that if a guard is not available, a train cannot leave the station. Southern want to drop the guard’s duty to watch the doors, and see you safely on and off the train, and leave the driver responsible for safety. That means the company is no longer obliged to have a guard on the train if it’s inconvenient to them.

 That, along with their current attempts to reduce the hours and duties of platform and ticket office staff, means your late night journey home is ever more likely to be a lonely one, with no-one to help you if you are in difficulty, lost or threatened, no-one to notice if you need help. Some lines already do this – if you live in London, and travel late at night, you will know how that can feel.

 There have been serious accidents on trains with no safety-trained guard on board. In Hayes and Harlington on 25th July 2015, a passenger’s bag got caught in a train door. There was no guard on door duty and the passenger was thrown to the ground and seriously injured. On 7th May this year at East Dunbarton, a man fell between the platform and the moving train. There was no guard on the train and no staff on the platform to help him. It seems the train companies would rather risk your health and safety than keep a full crew on your train.

 In April this year, after a ballot which followed the legal procedure, Southern staff who are members of RMT staged a 24 hour strike in protest at Southern’s plans. They received a letter from CEO Charles Horton saying, “…taking strike action will achieve nothing, but it will cost you and your family substantial sums should you strike. A sum of £268 will be withheld… This is money that you will not recover and when the RMT eventually try and settle the dispute, please be assured that GTR will not recompense you or waive any of the conditions covered later in this letter.”

 Those conditions included the confiscation of staff rail passes and car parking permits and the forbidding of shift-swapping – an action which also penalised staff who did not go on strike, if they had been swapping with someone who did, to cover child-care needs for example. Having made it as difficult as possible for staff - strikers and non-strikers - to get to work, the company then put the following message on their public website:

 “We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that, due to an unusually high level of sickness among some of our conductors and some others not working their normal rest days, we are unable to run the full service between Southampton and Brighton.

“We know this will come as an added blow after last week's conductors' strike by members of the RMT union.”

 They are trying to provoke complaints from passengers but, during the strike, a poll in the Kent and Sussex Courier found that over 90% of passengers fully supported the staff’s action. MPs support the staff’s action: there is an early day motion currently filed at Westminster, objecting to Govia Thameslink Railways staffing cuts and Southern/GTR’s behaviour.

 Please sign this petition if you too would like safety-trained staff on your train.

 Dear Charles Horton,

Please stop penalising your staff for standing up for safety and personal service. Keep the guard on the train, keep the train safe.

(The poll shown on the front of this petition comes from the Kent and Sussex Courier – a publication read by many commuters in the southeast.)

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