Train operator Northern has formally written to conciliation service ACAS, asking it to use its powers to establish an independent inquiry into the issues at the heart of its ongoing dispute with the RMT.
Members of the railway workers' union have staged 40 days of strike action since March 2017 in a row over the future role of train conductors. Another is planned this Saturday, December 22.
Northern, which runs local services to Hartlepool and Sunderland, wants to do away with conductors - a move vehemently opposed by the RMT on safety grounds.
Bosses at Northern has invited RMT leaders to talks at ACAS on several occasions, but without any significant progress being made.
Now they have called for an independent inquiry to look at the future role of the second person that will be on Northern services, in addition to the driver, to help customers with accessibility, security, ticketing, information and any other help required.
The inquiry would also explore the feasibility of driver controlled operation, in which the driver has full operational control of the train, including the train doors.
It would have an independent chair and panel members and contributions would be invited from any interested parties.
Richard Allan, deputy managing director of Northern, said: “The RMT dispute means customers, businesses and the wider economy in the North have suffered the cost of 40 days of RMT strikes, including every Saturday in September, October, November, and now December.
“More than 50% of all rail journeys in the UK are made on driver-controlled trains, and recently the Department for Transport and Transport for the North publicly confirmed that a second person – in addition to the driver – would be retained on Northern services.
“This second person will provide customer service, including meeting customer needs on accessibility, safety, security, ticketing and information. Despite this, the RMT continues with its strike action.
“We call on the RMT to join us in committing to the inquiry and suspending its industrial action whilst the inquiry takes place.
"This would demonstrate commitment from both sides to try and resolve the issues, reassuring customers and stakeholders that every endeavour is being made by both sides.”
Northern has promised its conductors that their future role will be on-board trains, guaranteed until at least 2025, with their current pay protected (the starting salary is £28,250 a year), with an annual review.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The call for an inquiry is nothing more than a PR stunt and we have not seen any proposals from Northern Rail whatsoever that would make serious progress in terms of resolving the dispute.
"The company are seeking to kick the issue of rail safety into the long grass indefinitely, rather than facing up to the fundamental issue of the guard guarantee on their trains, and there is no way that RMT will allow them to get away with this chicanery.
“The answer to resolving this dispute is not an inquiry but meaningful negotiations. However, not only is the government working behind the scenes to block such negotiations, but it is wilfully using taxpayers money to bail out Northern Rail for revenues lost as a result of strike action, meaning the company have no financial incentive whatsoever to settle in a serious fashion.
“We don’t need an inquiry, we need genuine and meaningful ACAS talks focused on retaining a guard on Northern trains with the full suite of safety and operational competencies including at the crucial platform/train interface.
"RMT stands ready for talks, but we will not allow the company to railroad the issues at the heart of the dispute with meaningless gestures designed to buy time and delay a solution. The RMT action remains on.”