Exclusive: Rail talks set for next week as fresh round of strikes begin

As the latest round of national rail strikes begins at 14 train operators, the leader of the RMT union has said he expects talks to resume next week.

General secretary Mick Lynch spoke exclusively to The Independent at a picket line at London Euston station. Tens of thousands of members of the RMT are walking out today (16 March) and on Saturday 18 March.

But Mr Lynch indicated that the third and fourth days of industrial action, 30 March and 1 April, could be averted.

He told The Independent: “We’re looking to get back around the table next week. We want to work up some solutions to these problems and we want to get a square deal for our people.

“If we can do that, the dispute will be ended.”

Despite the walkout, all 14 train operators are running some services – with trains every half-hour from Newcastle to London on LNER, and a normal service on c2c between the capital and Southend.

The train operators, and ministers who will sign off the final settlement, believe that support for strikes is crumbling.

But Mr Lynch said: “I’ve got pictures from picket lines all across the country. Our members are out in support and I’m hearing reports that the service is reduced by up to 40 and 50 and 60 per cent depending where you are.

“So the action is as we expected, our members are adhering to the call for action.”

The government and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, insist a wage rise of 5 per cent for 2022 and 4 per cent for this year is contingent on modernisation intended to increase efficiency. The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, described it as a “best and final offer”.

The RMT rejected it as a “dreadful offer” and then asked for a no-strings pay rise.

But the union boss now says: “A no-strings offer would be good, but we have to deal with what’s presented to us, not just what we want.”

Mr Lynch added: “We want the passengers to be on our side, we serve the passengers and take them to where they want to go, hopefully.”

The RDG, meanwhile, accused the union of “sabotaging” a settlement by flip-flopping on whether a deal could include modernisation.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “The RMT leadership has repeatedly accepted in public and in the negotiating room that the post-pandemic railway is at a turning point and has to change. The union cannot accept the need for change without also accepting that means changing working practices.

“RMT members are already voting with their feet as more and more colleagues return to work today fed up with more lost pay and no say on a deal that gives the lowest paid a 13 per cent pay rise.”

“On a day where new figures have confirmed the railway is in dire financial straits, it’s time for the RMT leadership to take their heads out of the sand, recognise we can’t fund a deal without long-overdue reforms, and come back to the negotiating table so we can resolve this dispute once and for all.”

Figures released by the Office of Rail and Road show that passenger journeys were one-fifth down on pre-pandemic levels in the final three months of 2022.

Rail services will shut down early on most train operators on Thursday evening and some trains will be affected on Friday ahead of the next stoppage on Saturday.

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