UK strikes called off at Network Rail, operators still under threat
The British infrastructure agency Network Rail has confirmed that strike action called by the trades union RMT has been suspended. Staff at Network Rail, including safety critical signallers, were due to take part in a series of strikes later this month and in April. A brief statement from the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) on Tuesday evening announced that a new offer had been made by the employers (Network Rail) and that all action had been suspended.
However, unless a deal is also reached with the representatives of the passenger train operating companies – the majority of whom are in dispute with the union – disruption is still expected on the British railway system.
The eleven-month long dispute in the British railway industry, which has seen almost every passenger train operators crippled by strike action since April last year, has taken a significant step towards resolution. During that time passenger confidence in the network has plummeted, and public patience has begun to decline significantly. However, the news that a new offer has been made means action has been called off among Network Rail staff on four dates – Thursday 16, Saturday 18, Thursday 30 March, and Saturday 1 April.
Disruption still expected to be widespread
The news that Network Rail staff will not now strike is a breakthrough, but not a complete resolution. Signallers and other staff may well be working on the four planned days of action in March and April, but there may be precious few trains for them to handle. Staff at fourteen train operating companies – all of them headquartered in England – remain in dispute. It is unlikely any significant number of services would run from any of those operators.
Only domestic services in Wales and Scotland could expect to run normally. Freight operators, who have not been involved directly in the dispute, can reasonably expect to operate at near normal levels. Northern Ireland, where transport matters are fully devolved, has not been involved at all during the dispute.
Members to be balloted
In response to the breakthrough, Network Rail issued a brief, high level statement on Tuesday night. “We are relieved for our people, passengers and freight customers”, said Andrew Haines, the infrastructure agency’s chief executive. “Industrial action in Network Rail has now been suspended. We look forward to further information on plans for a referendum.”
Haines was referring to a proposal that RMT members be balloted on the revised offer from Network Rail. “There will be a referendum on the new offer held with further details to be announced”, said John Millington, spokesperson for the trades union. “The RMT national executive committee has taken the decision to suspend all industrial action on Network Rail following receipt of a new offer from the employer.” He added that: “further updates will be given on all aspects of the national rail dispute in the coming days”, fuelling speculation that there may be news to follow concerning the operators. No details of the offer were released. The negotiating team at the Rail Delivery Group, who represent the train operating companies, has not made comment overnight.