Train operator Network Rail has started its legal consultation with unions over proposed modernisation reforms.
The proposals are a central issue in the current rail strikes, the most recent of which took place on Wednesday 27 July. The RMT union plans a further two strikes in August, while around 5,500 train drivers who are members of the Aslef union will strike on Saturday (30 July).
Network Rail argues that the reforms will bring much-needed modernisation to the rail industry, but around 1,900 jobs will be lost as a result of the changes. It also believes the reforms will improve safety for employees and passengers, save money and help rail services run more efficiently.
The proposed reforms include building multi-disciplined response teams to deal with faults, greater use of smart meters to flag issues with control rooms before equipment fails, individual rostering rather than fixed-size teams, and accelerated deployment of “labour and life-saving technology”.
However, the RMT union has criticised Network Rail’s decision to proceed with the consultation. It has refuted a statement to staff from the company that an unconditional pay offer is available.
“This is a deception on the staff and is entirely untrue,” the union responded in a statement. “The offer they have made is entirely conditional on mass redundancies and changes to conditions and working practices that are not yet worked through and are subject to discussions with the trade unions.”
According to Network Rail, the most recent pay offer is 8% over two years, including discounted travel, a cash bonus, and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said the company will see a shortfall of around £2bn in revenue this year compared with 2019 because of changes in travelling habits since the pandemic.
“The way people live and work has changed since the pandemic. On the railway, that means significantly fewer commuters and significantly less income,” he said.
“It would be wrong to fund this deficit through increases in fares or taxes when we know that some of our working practices are fundamentally broken. That’s why we must make progress with modernising the way we carry out maintenance work and making the savings that are necessary for the future of our railway.”
“We haven’t given up on finding a negotiated way forward. We have made a good pay offer and our door remains open, but we can’t continue to circle the same ground day after day, week after week and not move forward.
“These reforms are too important, especially given we started these conversations 18 months ago. It is vital that we progress our modernisation plans to help put our railway on a sustainable financial footing for the future.”
The RMT added: “Rather than deceiving the staff about what they are actually proposing, the company now needs to get back round the table with RMT and work to resolve the issues in the dispute including their proposals for change and the union’s demands for job security and a decent pay rise.”