More than 30 conductors working for Southern have been off sick on average across the last month-and-a-half, according to the rail operator.
Services have been affected by conductor strikes and high levels of staff sickness in the last few weeks with a number of trains across all routes cancelled or severely delayed.
Today Southern, which is part of the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise, revealed that over the last 32 working days the company has been hit by 1,066 days of conductor absence, an average of more than 33 a day.
The rate of absence that has more than doubled since the first conductors’ strike on April 26, while in the last month one in six conductors have taken at least one day off sick.
An average of 83 Southern services are being cancelled due to the current sickness problems.
A spokesman for Southern said: “We would not usually release such information, but passengers deserve to know the reasons behind the unusually high level of train cancellations they are presently experiencing.
“For those conductors who are ill the company is offering all the support we are able to and working out how they can get back to work. But these figures show a remarkable and unprecedented level of sickness absence which commenced at the time of the first strike.
“We are presently looking into what steps can be taken to investigate this deterioration in the health of conductors across the south of England.”
But RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash criticised the company’s decision to publish the data which he described as ‘pure fiction’ and said that GTR had ‘chosen to go to war’ with its own staff instead of running a reliable railway.
He called on top bosses at the company to publish their own sickness, pay, and perks records to the public so they could judge for themselves.
Last week GTR’s chief executive officer Charles Horton told the union to ‘get on board with these changes which will improve the railway for passengers, as well as securing the jobs of their members’.
He added: “This pointless and unnecessary action by the RMT causes enormous disruption for the 300,000 people we carry on their commute every day.”
Earlier this week Lewes MP Maria Caulfield called for an urgent meeting with the rail minister to discuss Southern’s ‘worst performance to date’. She said: “Despite repeated attempts by MPs across Sussex to ask Southern Rail to improve their services, this month sees the worst performance to date with figures showing Southern and Thameslink being the worst performing operators.
“My constituents can take no more and are fed up with cancellations, late running trains, strikes and early terminations.
“I have asked to meet with the rail minister as a matter of urgency.”
Meanwhile Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, raised the ‘absolutely lamentable’ performance of GTR’s management in a House of Commons debate on The Queen’s Speech on Monday.
While GTR were falling below their own modest performance improvement benchmarks set a year ago, Mr Herbert argued that service failures were being exacerbated by ‘misconceived industrial action’ by the RMT.
He said that there was ‘no justification for the industrial action and it should not continue’.
The MP said that the combination of poor service and industrial action was ‘now causing real anger’ among his commuting constituents who depended on the rail service to get to work.
On Tuesday he also met Dyan Crowther, chief operating officer of GTR, to discuss both the strikes and performance issues.
Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley made similar points following the State of Opening of Parliament the week before.
He said: “To those involved in the disputes in the Southern and Govia Thameslink rail services at the moment, I see no reason to justify the interruption to services, whether that be through organised sickness absence or strikes.”
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