Train strikes: New offer to be made to unions

Pay hike likely to be 10 per cent over two years with ‘driver-only operation’ proposals watered down

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 12 January 2023 09:51 GMT
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Mick Lynch accuses government of ‘torpedoing’ rail strike talks

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Rail workers are expected to be offered an improved deal by train operators as soon as today.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) is expected to boost its previous offer to the three main rail unions: the RMT, Aslef representing train drivers, and the white-collar TSSA.

The RDG is negotiating on behalf of train operators, but any deal must be signed off by ministers.

Speaking on Peston on ITV on Wednesday night, the transport secretary, Mark Harper, said a “renewed offer” will be tabled on Thursday.

He said: “I'm hopeful that now there is a renewed offer on the table, that that can happen.

“There are conversations going on between various of the unions and the companies. I'm hopeful we'll make some progress in the coming days.“

Sources suggest the offer of a backdated 4 per cent rise for 2022 and the same percentage for 2023 could be increased to 5 per cent for each year.

In addition, the demand for an expansion of “driver-only operation” (DOO) or “driver-controlled operation” (in which the driver opens and closes train doors but at least one other staff member is on board) is likely to be watered down.

A pay offer made last month in which an expansion of DOO was stipulated was immediately thrown out by the RMT.

At a session of the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday, the union leader, Mick Lynch, said: “We will never sign up to accepting DOO. It will never happen while I am general secretary. It will never happen as long as the RMT exists.

“We will never accept the removal of more guards from trains. We won’t accept that, and we won’t continue with any talks that has that as a pre-requisite.”

The Rail Delivery Group says driver-only operation is “already present across 45 per cent of services carrying 55 per cent of passengers, and has been running safely for almost 40 years”. 

Mr Lynch accused the Department for Transport (DfT) of “deliberate torpedoing of the talks,” saying: “It is the DfT that have insisted on this.

“Nothing happens in this industry without the secretary of state and the 50 people in the DfT today, who are working on this dispute and what they call workforce reforms.”

The RMT leader said nine previously undiscussed clauses were added to the offer document on a Sunday afternoon in early December

“To me, it’s sabotage, and they wanted these strikes to go ahead.

“They got the reaction, they let the strikes go ahead over Christmas, they didn’t lift a telephone or a finger to get them off.”

Since the strikes began in June 2022, the DfT has been run by three different secretaries of states: Grant Shapps under Boris Johnson’s premiership; Anne-Marie Trevelyan, while Liz Truss was prime minister; and Mark Harper, who was appointed by Rishi Sunak.

Mr Lynch said that the dispute was the “bequest” of Mr Shapps. He said Mr Harper and the new rail minister, Huw Merriman are “more pleasant to deal with”.

At the same hearing, the general secretary of Aslef, Mick Whelan, said the current deal on offered to his members “may destroy the ability to go back to those talks in future”.

He told MPs: “There’s been a constant interference in the free collective bargaining process by all the teams. Increasingly this seems to be the generation of bad faith, driven from behind the scenes, putting clauses into the RMT deal that hadn’t been discussed.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “Far from holding up negotiations, this government is determined to help unions and employers achieve a deal and avoid further strikes, while delivering the much-needed reforms which will put our railway on a sustainable financial footing for the future.

“The industry has put forward fair and reasonable pay offers and, to facilitate progress, the Government has held meetings between all parties in a bid to end this damaging dispute.”

The first national rail strikes since the 1980s began in June 2022 and have continued intermittently up to Saturday 7 January.

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