Virgin Trains staff will strike on April 28 and 29
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.
RMT union members want assurances on the retention if the role of the guard
"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.
They have sought to fob us off with meaningless statements
Mick Cash of the RMT
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"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 announcement follows strikes on Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva services
Virgin Trains is reassuring customers that it will run a near normal timetable during the industrial action announced today by the RMT. The union says its members will walk-out for 48 hours on 28th and 29th April on Virgin Trains east coast route.
However, Virgin Trains’ detailed contingency plans mean a near normal timetable will run.
Virgin Trains has made changes to customer-facing roles on board which see a single person take responsibility for the customer experience on our trains, supported by a team. 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.
Virgin Trains has given assurances on each point raised by the union at the start of the dispute in May 2016 – such as ruling out any compulsory redundancies as a result of the changes. The RMT has already held a futile 24hr walkout on this issue on 3rd October 2016 – during which Virgin Trains ran a full timetable.
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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 underway 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 on March 31st 2017. 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 benefitting 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.”
There is no industrial action planned for Virgin Trains on the west coast.