UK STRIKE UPDATE

UK union rejects offer, rail strikes around Christmas likely

IMage: Gareth James - GeographGareth James - Geograph

Employers in the UK rail industry have tabled a draft framework agreement after several weeks of intensive talks. However, the Rail and Maritime Transport union (RMT) has rejected the offer, bringing the likelihood of industrial strikes over Christmas closer than ever. At least, time would appear to have run out to cancel the first round of strikes, scheduled for Tuesday 13 and Wednesday 14 December.

The offer sets out national principles that would shape local implementation negotiations between each train operator and local RMT representatives. If accepted, it could have averted the planned industrial action due to start on the 13 December, upending the festive travel plans of millions of people, and hitting retail and hospitality businesses desperate for a buoyant Christmas.

The rail union has however rejected the offer and instead has demanded an immediate meeting (on Monday) to resolve the dispute. They say that the offer is worth just four per cent in in 2022 and 2023, and it is conditional on accepting changes to working practices, job losses, driver only operation on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.

The offer

The draft agreement would deliver reforms that will support funding pay increases of up to eight per cent. The agreement would cover the 2022 and 2023 pay awards. The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing employers, say that the proposal package includes a pay offer that reflects cost-of-living challenges as well as guarantees on no compulsory redundancies until 1 April 2024. RDG also says it will also deliver changes to working arrangements necessary to secure the future of the industry while not over-burdening taxpayers at a time of significant pressure on the public finances.

“This is a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff”, explained a spokesperson from the Rail Delivery Group. “If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge that they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024.”

Working practices unchanged in decades

The RMT says that there is no reference to better working conditions in the offer. “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions”, said Mick Lynch of the RMT.

“The RDG and DfT [Department for Transport at the UK government] who set their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members. If this plan was implemented, it would not only mean the loss of thousands of jobs but the use of unsafe practices such as DOO and would leave our railways chronically understaffed.”

The RDG has urged the RMT leadership to put this offer to its membership and remove the threat of a month of industrial action over Christmas that will upset the travel plans of millions and cause real hardship for businesses which depend on Christmas custom. “We urge the RMT to move forward together with us and so we can give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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