Members of railway workers’ union the RMT are voting on whether to continue strike action for a further six months.
The ballot, which opened today (Tuesday 18 October) closes on 15 November and comes in the wake of eight nationwide strike days since June, with no further strikes scheduled.
RMT members at 15 train operating companies and Network Rail have taken part in the strikes, with the latter now on the cusp of making a revised offer to unions.
The RMT’s current six-month strike mandate ends in November. If members vote in favour in the new ballot and there is no breakthrough in talks, strikes could continue into spring 2023.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told MPs on the Transport Select Committee last week that more money and “a change in attitude and a change of stance” were needed from the government and the rail industry, for a solution to be reached.
The dispute centres around pay and conditions against a backdrop of rail companies seeking savings in the wake of the Covid pandemic. The RMT rejected Network Rail’s offer from July, which involved a 4% pay rise this year followed by a 4% pay rise in 2023, plus benefits such as highly discounted travel for employees and their families.
This was partly conditional on changes to the way maintenance teams work, which involve some job losses. Examples including changing the way staff are rostered, and using technology for some track inspections instead of sending workers out.
Network Rail has been preparing to make a slightly revised offer in this week’s talks. The pay offer is expected to remain the same, but the guarantee of no compulsory redundancies may be extended for one more year until 2025.
The new transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, has, unlike her predecessor Grant Shapps, met not only industry bosses but union leaders.
Among the changes the RMT and TSSA unions oppose are what they have described as mass ticket office closures.
The transport secretary told the Conservative Party conference that she had asked the rail industry to review ticket office provision, but insisted the aim was to serve passengers in the way they needed. For example moving out from behind glass in ticket offices.
The government has promised a new law that will mean transport operators have to provide “minimum service levels” during strikes. Legislation is expected to enter parliament later this week. Aslef, whose members have also held several large-scale strikes, said the proposals would not work.
Martin Williams, head of employment at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter, said: “Should the RMT secure a new mandate for strikes with its latest ballot, it will do so under existing legislation.
“The shape of the action could impact the government response by way of a change in legislation. The level of rail services that can be provided will be monitored carefully, in light of the near standstill at the beginning of this month.
“Ironically, the greater the imposition on the public, which may pressure settlement in the short-term, the more likely the prospect of severe restrictions on strikes being introduced in the long-term.”
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