Rail passengers will face fresh travel disruption from today as tens of thousands of workers take strike action in the ongoing dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
The Network Rail staff include signallers and engineers who run the Great British railway infrastructure. Union representatives are engaged in talks with management of this “public sector arm’s length body of the Department for Transport”.
Alongside the striking Network Rail workers, other RMT staff working for 14 train operators have walked out. This walkout involves a separate dispute, in which the RMT is talking to the Rail Delivery Group.
Network Rail bosses have been in intensive negotiations since the RMT called the latest strike.
On 4 December, Network Rail made an offer. Members of the Unite union accepted it, and those employees have called off planned industrial action. But the RMT put the deal out to a referendum of its members with a recommendation to reject it.
RMT announced on 12 December that 63.6 per cent of members (of an 83 per cent turnout) rejected the most recent pay offer from Network Rail.
Members of RMT will stage two 48-hour walkouts on 3, 4, 6 and 7 January, while drivers in the Aslef union will strike on Thursday 5 January.
The RMT strikes will involve Network Rail workers alongside 14 train operating companies, including: CrossCountry, LNER, TransPennine Express, Great Western Railway, West Midlands Trains and GTR (Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express).
On Tuesday, transport secretary Mark Harper said of negotiations with the unions: “We had some good meetings before Christmas, we have got some more meetings scheduled next week.
““I would, frankly, rather they were taking place this week rather than the strikes happening, but that was a matter for the unions.
“It is RMT and Aslef ithat have scheduled strikes for this week; I would rather they were sat around the negotiating table.”
Here’s everything we know about the deal offered by Network Rail, why it was rejected and what RMT union members are asking for.
What deal were RMT members offered?
Network Rail offered RMT members a 5 per cent pay rise this year, and a 4 per cent pay rise in 2023 (9 per cent in total).
The rail infrastructure manager has also guaranteed no compulsory redundancies before 2025 and no changes to Network Rail employees’ terms and conditions.
Other perks included discounted rail travel for staff’s family and friends; Network Rail described the deal as its “best and final” offer.
What deal are RMT members asking for?
RMT members are looking for a “negotiated settlement” but have not put a number on what they expect in terms of a pay rise.
In reference to the latest Network Rail offer, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We will resist that and our members, along with the entire trade union movement will continue their campaign for a square deal for workers, decent pay increases and good working conditions.”
He called the offer “substandard”.
On Tuesday (3 January), Mr Lynch confirmed that the deal the RMT are demanding had not changed since December.
“The price is the same. We’ve got to have a settlement on the conditions. We’ve got to have a job security agreement. We’ve got to get a pay deal,” he told The Independent.
“What we need to do now is to move towards a settlement. And the only people that can facilitate that are the government, who are doing nothing whatsoever.”
Why did the RMT reject the most recent offer?
The RMT alleges a 50 per cent cut in scheduled maintenance tasks was also outlined by Network Rail in this recent offer; the deal was dependent on changes to working practices in maintenance teams, which would involve 1,900 job losses.
Network Rail says that it is certainly looking to reduce headcount, but its offer for voluntary redundancy was so enthusiastically received that no compulsory job losses will be necessary.
The cut in maintenance tasks largely involves replacing human inspections with remote technology. Network Rail insists it will reduce the need to send “boots out on ballast” and should actually improve performance with early warning of potential problems.
The union also says the deal would involve a 30 per cent increase in unsocial hours. Network Rail disputes this.
Fifty-five per cent of eligible members voted against the deal; the remained either voted to accept (36 per cent) or abstained (9 per cent).
The RMT general secretary called the vote against acceptance “a huge rejection of Network Rail’s substandard offer and shows that our members are determined to take further strike action”.
What has Network Rail said?
“Our offer, which is worth over 9 per cent, with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and no changes to anyone’s terms and conditions, remains on the table,” said Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail.
“The RMT leadership needs to think long and hard about what to do next.
“Further strike action will cause further misery for the rail industry and for their members who will lose pay.
“This news is especially frustrating, given that we learnt today that colleagues represented by Unite union have accepted the very same offer put to RMT members. The RMT are the outliers here, they need to stop playing politics and work with us to bring this dispute to an end.”
What has the RMT Union said?
On 2 January, the RMT Union put out a statement saying that government ministers were “blocking” talks between employers and unions.
“Despite the union’s best efforts over the Christmas period, rail employers have not arranged any formal negotiations with RMT to resolve the dispute,” it said.
“Both Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group are being directly blocked by government ministers from producing an acceptable proposal on job security, pay and working conditions. RMT remains available around the clock for talks so all parties can come to a negotiated settlement.”