Britain’s autumn strikes loom but signs of resolution in the air

RMT at Cleethorpes (RMT Facebook)Image RMT-Facebook

The change of monarch is now complete. The changes at the head of government are underway. After a September hiatus, Britain is back to the reality of dealing with a cost of everything crisis, and a damaging series of strikes, including the multiple disputes on the railways. However, there is change for the better, with new ministers taking a new approach to finding resolution.

The chain of command has changed at the palaces – both at Buckingham and at Westminster. There has not have been any succession across at Unity House, and Mick Lynch is still at the helm of the Rail and Maritime Trades union. However, after a summer of brandishing sticks at each other, it is the recast government that has extended an olive branch, and offered fresh hope of negotiated settlements.

Trevelyan meets and greets…

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the new transport secretary and the senior government representative at the Department for Transport, has given the reshuffled UK government an opportunity to reset relations with the trades unions. Trevelyan has wasted no time in making contact with Mick Lynch at the RMT, and has reportedly made similar overtures to the leaders of the other unions involved in disputes on the railways.

The new transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has met with union leaders (UK Parliament official portraits0

Those disputes include one originally scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. TSSA (the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) had planned to call out members from “noon until noon”, but cancelled that action in respect of the Queen’s funeral, and the difficulty in organising talks during the period of mourning. TSSA has since said they will call out their members at Network Rail and eleven train operating companies, taking strike action and action short of strike on Saturday 1 October, with individual companies taking strike action on 5, 6 and 8 October. Members involved include staff working in ticket offices, stations, control rooms, and other support roles across Britain.

…but Trevelyan does not negotiate

That respect of national mourning was observed by all the other unions involved. However, they have wasted no time in rearranging and announcing new action. Both RMT and the drivers’ union Aslef have announced strikes for next week. RMT’s 40,000 members across Network Rail and fifteen passenger train operating companies in England will walk out on 1 and 8 October. Aslef train drivers will also be on strike for Saturday and Wednesday, 1 and 5 October. All these dates are despite the meetings with the transport secretary. The Department for Transport has pointed out that the transport secretary has only met with union leaders, and has not personally entered into negotiations.

Spoil the Conservative party in Birmingham

Unite, which styles itself as the UK’s leading union, has confirmed that its members employed in electrical control rooms will join other rail unions in taking strike action on Saturday 1 October, Wednesday 5 October and Saturday 8 October. “Our members at Network Rail play a crucial and demanding role in maintaining the electrical supply to the rail network”, said Sharon Graham, their general secretary. “To be faced with a three year pay freeze during the worst cost of living crisis in decades is disgraceful. They will continue to receive Unite’s complete support.”

The rail freight sector has been enjoying better relations with the unions, albeit action elsewhere has meant that about thirty per cent of freight traffic has been disrupted. Observers have put this more cordial relationship down to the fully commercial nature of the businesses involved, and their ability to negotiate directly with unions. That may be a topic of debate at the ruling Conservative party annual conference in Birmingham next month. That assumes delegates can get there. It’s no coincidence that this round of strikes bracket the conference dates (2-5 October).

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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