Rail unions to resume talks this week

Rail unions to resume talks this week

There will be talks between the rail industry and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers RMT this week, amid renewed optimism that a deal can be reached without further strikes.

A full resolution to the long-running pay dispute on the railway is likely to remain a long time away, because drivers union Aslef was set to reject an initial offer from train operators.

Network Rail responsible for track, signalling, and other infrastructure in Great Britain and the Rail Delivery Group RDG representing train operators were due to resume separate negotiations in London with the RMT leadership on Tuesday morning.

After a four-week period of strikes and other industrial action on either side of Christmas, the RMT believed it could reach an agreement without further action, according to sources close to the dispute.

The union said it was still waiting for an improved offer from Network Rail and the RDG, something it regards as a prerequisite after a clause inserted at the last minute scuppered a prospective deal with train operators in December.

An 8% offer was rejected outright by the RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, who accused the government of torpedoing the deal by inserting demands around driver-only operation, an issue that has caused years of strikes on Southern rail and elsewhere before the coronaviruses epidemic.

It is understood that commitments around driver-only operation and other controversial modernisation proposals will be watered down.

Ministers met last week and said there was a better deal on the table. In their last official statement, released on Thursday, the RMT and the RDG said they were working together to reach an agreement. Mark Harper, the transport secretary, said at the weekend that he believed that both the companies and the rail unions were looking for a better deal on the table for rail workers. With a seven day railway with a seven-day railway where people turn up on their days, Network Rail's chief negotiator, Tim Shoveller told MPs last week that he was confident a deal could be reached. Harper said that it was important that we get generational reform in Network Rail's maintenance operation and operating companies. In an electronic referendum in December, RMT members and critical signalling staff rejected the Network Rail offer of a 9% increase over two years, of which 5% was backdated to January 2022, with discounted travel and a guarantee on jobs.

There is a chance that a settlement with the RMT will pave the way for easier negotiations with Aslef. A meeting of Aslef's eight-strong national executive committee started on Monday afternoon with an increase in pay from train operators expected to top the agenda.

Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan told MPs there was no chance of drivers accepting the offer as it stood, which he said meant worse terms and conditions for a large real-terms pay cut.

The dispute cost the rail industry an estimated 400 million in lost revenue over the 21 strike days, with the majority of stoppages by RMT members.