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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Simon Calder

RMT union takes step towards resolving bitter pay dispute - could it all be over by Christmas?

Simon Calder

The biggest rail union, the RMT, is seeking a settlement in its long-running and bitter dispute with train operators. It follows several weeks of negotiations quietly continuing in a bid to find a deal that can be put to members.

An agreement with the 14 rail firms that are contracted by the government and represented by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) appears to have been reached.

The first national rail strikes since the 1980s began on 21 June 2022 and have continued intermittently since then. The rail unions are seeking a no-strings pay deal, while train operators – backed by ministers – say any wage rise must be contingent on reforms to working arrangements.

The union now says a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “sets out a process for a mutually agreed way forward, including a backdated 2022 pay rise for staff and job security guarantees”.

The potential deal moves responsibility for talks on modernisation to a local level with individual train operators.

The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said of the prospective settlement: “This is a welcome development and our members will now decide in an e-referendum whether they want to accept this new offer.”

Members will vote on the offer in an online referendum that closes on 30 November.

The union says that if it is accepted, it will “terminate the national dispute mandate, creating a pause and respite from industrial action over the Christmas period and into spring next year”.

“These discussions would be aimed at addressing the companies' proposals on the changing needs and expectations of passengers as well as unlocking further increases for staff, in order to help to secure a sustainable, long-term future for the railway and all those who work on it.”

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: “We welcome the RMT putting this fair and reasonable offer to its members in a referendum, marking a positive step towards resolving this dispute.

“The Rail Delivery Group’s offer guarantees no compulsory redundancies and a fair pay rise, while ensuring we can take forward much-needed reform to secure the future of our railways.

“We hope RMT members will recognise the benefits, accept this offer and put an end to the RMT’s industrial action.”

Last month RMT members voted 90:10 in favour of more industrial action, on a turn out of 64 per cent.

Mr Lynch said at the time: “If no new offer is forthcoming, we will once again take strike action in defence of our members’ livelihoods.”

But with members typically having lost thousands of pounds during a series of strikes, the union leadership has been looking for a way out.

The task was made easier when train operators withdrew plans for closing the vast majority of ticket offices at stations in England. The government had ordered the rail firms to produce closure plans for consultation, but then told them to ditch the proposals.

The expectation is that RMT members will vote for a settlement. If it goes through, further negotiations will take place at a local level.

Last year, the RMT took industrial action over Christmas and New Year, with five separate multi-day strikes between 13 December and 7 January.

But as the industrial action has continued, train operators have been adding more services on RMT strike days – reducing the impact of walk-outs.

In contrast, strikes by the train drivers’ union, Aslef, continue to bring much of the rail network to a halt.

The Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan, has accused rail firms and ministers of staging “a land grab for terms and conditions right across the board for a 20 per cent pay cut”.

Rail finances were devastated by Covid lockdowns and revenue is still well below pre-pandemic levels.

Season ticket sales, previously the financial bedrock of the industry, have slumped. The industry is currently losing £4,000 per minute on top of the usual taxpayer subsidy of £12,300 per minute.

There is no sign of any settlement between the employers and the train drivers’ union, Aslef. More strikes are anticipated in the run-up to Christmas and into the New Year.

The last walk-out by members of Aslef was on 4 October.

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