Southern rail drivers would suspend their planned strike action in late January if the firm's bosses agrees to new talks, trade union Aslef announced on Tuesday (17 January 2016). The offer comes a week before three 24-hour walkouts (Tuesday 24 January, Wednesday 25 January, Friday 27 January) are due to take place.
Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, wants to meet with Southern officials at the Trades Union Congress' (TUC) headquarters in London rather than using Acas' mediation services.
"I am today proposing a new process to try and find a resolution to our industrial dispute with Southern Rail," Whelan said.
"Given the implications of this dispute for the wider railway industry, I am also asking the secretary of state for transport to support this new process.
"Aslef believes that the best way to resolve the dispute at Southern is for all parties to engage in meaningful talks – without preconditions – aimed at finding an agreed way forward."
The move is the latest development in the long-running dispute on Southern over the future role of rail guards. The franchise, operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), wants to move to driver-only-operations (DOO). Aslef and sister transport union RMT have opposed the modernisation programme over potential job losses and safety dears.
But watchdog the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) concluded in early January that DOO trains would be safe on Southern. However, Southern have been urged to improve the quality of the CCTV images used by drivers to monitor the platforms.
"ORR is satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working," said Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways.
Strikes on Southern in December and January have left 300,000 people dealing with travel disruptions. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has offered to install a team of senior Transport for London officials to run the franchise.
"We've always made clear our willingness to engage in meaningful talks with ASLEF to find a route forward to end their dispute," said Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR.
"So, together with our passengers and businesses, we warmly welcome their decision to suspend next week's planned industrial action.
"This is an important and significant development for the travelling public and the regional economy and our focus and efforts now will be on productive talks with the union and trying to find a solution and a way forward.
"We are grateful to [TUC general secretary] Frances O'Grady and Andy Meadows for agreeing to chair jointly this important new round of talks and they have our unequivocal endorsement and support."
UPDATE: 11:39 GMT
The TUC have agreed to hold the talks between Southern bosses and Aslef representatives on Wednesday 18 January.
Frances O'Grady and Abellio UK HR Director Andy Meadows said: "We are committed to finding a fair solution to this dispute. We are pleased the parties have agreed to meet for meaningful talks."