Unions say ‘long road’ to prevent further industrial action

Rail union leaders told lawmakers that much remained to be agreed on whether to prevent further national strikes, while one accused the government of “sabotaging” its negotiations.

RMT leader Mick Lynch told the transportation committee that, as evidence, his members had “a long way to go” to secure agreements on the basic wage.

He said Network Rail and train operating companies are individually offering their members half of what they deserve to navigate the cost of living crisis, after years of pay freezes.

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Aslef and his colleagues at the TSSA unions, when asked to rate one to 10, explained that they were as far away from agreements as possible to end their separate disagreements.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Drivers Aslef union, when asked about the goings-on in his fight with train operators, told lawmakers: “I think you can include zero. We’re further from where we started.”

Union bosses were also asked how long they could keep the strikes going, and Mr. Whelan said he was in a “long-term” business and could sustain the action “for a very long time” financially.

But he said he wanted to fix problems “tomorrow” so he could get back to doing his “daily job”.

Rail Delivery Group president Steve Montgomery and Network Rail’s chief negotiator Tim Shoveller were more optimistic about making deals to end various disagreements.

Both need further talks with RMT and TSSA in the coming days, but Mr Montgomery acknowledged that “more work” with Aslef is needed as the dispute is in its infancy.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky’s The Take with Sophy Ridge that progress had been made in resolving the dispute and that any suggestion to the contrary was “unfair”.

When asked about the possibility of an agreement to end the strikes, the cabinet minister said, “I will not give figures.”

But he added: “He (Mr Whelan) has received an offer, is now in a position where his union can sit down and talk to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operating companies, to talk through reform, talk money. and at least there is a basis for a conversation there.”

Train operating companies offered an 8% salary increase to the drivers union in two years, subject to changes in fees and conditions.

A similar deal was rejected by RMT and Aslef is expected to reject it as well.

Besides pay, one of the key points in the dispute is changes in working practices and conditions, with unions vehemently opposed to drive-only trains.

Ministers sabotage dispute

Mr. Lynch was particularly vocal about the role of government, saying that ministers had set up the dispute.

He said that for many years he had deliberately provoked his members through “reckless politics”, causing “loads” of damage to the rail system as a result.

He added that the union would never accept such a move, accusing the Ministry of Transport of being in the background in the negotiations and asking for an expansion of the driver-only train operation in its talks with the RDG.

While describing how nine articles on the subject were added to a draft document before the strikes last week, he said, “This is nonsense. It’s sabotage in my opinion. They wanted these strikes to continue.”

Mr. Whelan supported RMT’s position and said Aslef strongly opposed driver-only trains because they were unsafe.

TSSA has reached a settlement agreement with Network Rail, but its dispute with train operators remains – London’s Elizabeth Line will be hit by the first strike on Thursday.

RDG and Network Rail have consistently argued that railroads cannot afford the salary increases requested, especially given the damage to passenger numbers since the pandemic.

When asked about the RMT salary dispute, Mr Shoveller said only a few thousand Network Rail staff would need to be earned, citing higher worker support for a deal.

Mr Montgomery also declined to discuss whether it included improved offers, saying it would be disrespectful to the unions to reveal such a position.

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