COMMUTERS and rail passengers in Basingstoke are set for yet more disruption after a union has announced that it will be striking.

National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have announced they will be striking for a sixth time across the South Western Railway network next month.

It comes after an unprecedented 27 days of strike action in December.

The RMT have announced its guards will be walking out from 10am on Monday, March 9 to 10am on Tuesday, and again for the same times on Thursday, March 12 to Friday, March 13.

It comes as part of a long-running dispute between the franchise and the union over the role of guards.

Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: “Our members have been left with no choice but to call a further 2 days of strike action on South Western Railway.

“They have shown an incredible amount of solidarity and voted for industrial action for an historic sixth time in one of the union’s longest running disputes.

“We are appalled by management's bullying and harassment tactics in their attempt to get our members return to work. The company's constant barrage of lengthy letters every time our Guard members take legal and legitimate industrial action is intimidating, degrading, humiliating and offensive. RMT will not tolerate our members being bullied or intimidated by any company at any time whether we are in dispute or not."

However, Jeremy Varns, of campaign group SWR Watch, has called on the RMT to stop acting as a "roadblock to much-needed reform".

"It’s possible to be critical of both the company and union as I am, and passengers deserve much better from both.

"It’s unreasonable to expect passengers to pay full fares for a significantly reduced service, whether due to industrial action or engineering works.

"The basic principle of fairness should apply here. Intervention by the government to make it happen is long overdue."

A spokesperson for SWR said: "We are disappointed that the RMT has chosen to announce further strike dates, particularly as we already have further talks planned.

"While we have compromised on a number of points since this dispute started, SWR is the only suburban network within London with guards still operating the doors.

"We have guaranteed to keep a guard on every train, but it is vital that we use the most efficient means of dispatch when we introduce our new trains so that we can deliver the improved performance our customers so desperately need."

As well as disruption caused by December's strikes, rail users in the region have also been affected by severe delays caused by the derailment of a freight train at Eastleigh last month.

It comes amongst doubts over the franchise's future. As previously reported in the Gazette, SWR could be nationalised.

A statement issued by transport secretary Grant Shapps to Parliament said the operation currently run by (SWR) could be transferred to the Operator of Last Resort (OPR), a public sector operator wholly owned by the government department.

It also comes after the operator's accounts cast a doubt over the future of the franchise.

First MTR South Western Trains Ltd's accounts for the year ending March 31, 2019, showed a post-tax loss of £136.9m.

This has led to Kevin Gardner, Director, to conclude that there is “material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern, and that the company may be unable to realise its assets and discharge its liabilities”.