Rail strikes: Fresh walkouts likely as RMT union rejects ‘best and final’ pay offer

‘Our industrial campaign will continue for as long as it takes’ – Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 11 February 2023 10:44 GMT
All UK strike dates confirmed for February 2023

Rail passengers whose journeys have been blighted by eight months of strikes are likely to face yet more disruption after the RMT union rejected the latest pay offers from both Network Rail and the train operating companies.

Staff had been offered a 5 per cent pay rise for 2022 and 4 per cent for this year, contingent on changes to working arrangements.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: “We have carried out an in-depth consultation of our 40,000 members and the message we have received loud and clear is to reject these dreadful offers.

“Our members cannot accept the ripping up of their terms and conditions or to have safety standards on the railway put into jeopardy under the guise of so-called modernisation.

“If our union did accept these offers, we would see a severe reduction in scheduled maintenance tasks, making the railways less safe, the closure of all ticket offices and thousands of jobs stripped out of the industry when the railways need more investment not less.”

He added: “Our industrial campaign will continue for as long as it takes to get a negotiated settlement that meets our members reasonable expectations on jobs, pay and working conditions.”

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, has deplored the decision not to put the offer out to a vote.

The RMT rejection of the “dreadful offers” raises the spectre of more stoppages in the weeks and months ahead. Union members working for train operators have taken 16 days of national industrial action since June 2022, with Network Rail staff on strike for 20 days.

The train operators involved in the dispute are effectively on contract to the Department for Transport (DfT), which specifies the services they must run and many of the fares they must charge.

So even though negotiations are carried out by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), ministers must sign off the final settlement.

Network Rail is an “arm’s length body” of the DfT – again, with the government signing off any settlement.

Earlier this week the transport secretary, Mark Harper, stressed the latest proposed deal was “a best and final offer that’s on the table”.

He told rail industry leaders: “I’ve been clear throughout this period of industrial action that modernising working practices must be part of reform.”

Mr Harper also warned: “Operating the railways is now financially unsustainable. And it isn’t fair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill.”

A spokesperson for the RDG said: “Our passengers and many hard-working RMT members will be deeply dismayed that the union leadership has opted to reject our fair proposals without putting out a vote to their full membership in a democratic referendum.

“Having listened to the union’s concerns during recent negotiations, we went back to the table with substantial changes to give colleagues a minimum pay increase of at least 9 per cent over two years – rising to over 13 per cent for the lowest paid – which they will now miss out on without even having had an opportunity to have their say.

“We removed driver only operation and gave an improved job security offer.

“This decision will hit colleagues in their pockets and does not negate the need to make the vital changes needed to secure the railway’s sustainable future, at a time when taxpayers are still paying up to £175m a month to make up the shortfall in revenue post-Covid.

“The railway's financial crisis is not going away. We remain willing to engage, but the RMT leadership must now accept the urgent need to make the railway fit for the future for both our people, and the communities the railway serves.”

The train drivers’ union, Aslef, is involved in a separate dispute with broadly the same train operators.

Drivers have so far walked out on eight days over the past seven months.

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