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It will be interesting to know whether the latest offer from Network Rail to RMT members is in any way different from the last one

The RMT union's decision to put the latest pay offer from Network Rail to its membership looks a pragmatic move.

It is in the interests of both sides to end this long-running dispute.

Network Rail is desperate to end the disruption to the railways.

Acutely aware that passenger numbers remain about 25% below their pre-pandemic levels, its management know that every journey lost to strike action - particularly among commuters - reduces the likelihood of the passenger affected using the railways in future.

So far as commuters are concerned - and remember that three in every four rail journeys in the UK either begins or ends in London - the railways are no longer competing with the car, or even with other forms of public transport, but with working from home, with Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

From the RMT's point of view, there will be concern that some of its members are suffering from so-called strike fatigue, since - even for a union as strongly financed as the RMT - the hardship fund members can apply to is not enough to fully make up for the wages lost on strike days.

The employer has suggested a growing number of RMT members have been working on strike days (the union disputes this) while it was also notable that during the ballot on Network Rail's last pay offer, held just before Christmas, some 36% of RMT members voted to accept it in spite of the fact that the union's leadership urged them to reject it.

The RMT will also be mindful that the public has never been as supportive of its members as it has of, say, striking nurses and ambulance workers.

That support is expected to wane further as the headline rate of inflation falls.

So it is highly significant indeed that, unlike last time, the union is not making a recommendation to members on whether to accept or reject the offer.

There are also plenty of questions going unanswered and not least about the offer itself.

There is little disputing the numbers.

Differently presented numbers add up the same

The RMT said this afternoon that Network Rail's offer "amounts to an uplift on salaries of between 14.4% for the lowest paid grades to 9.2% for the highest paid", which is in keeping with the briefings Network Rail have given out in recent days, which were around a backdated pay rise of 5% for 2022 and 4% for 2023.

The numbers are just being differently presented by both sides but add up the same.

The bigger curiosity is whether the deal being put by the RMT to its members actually represents what it said today was a "new and improved offer" from Network Rail.

Because it looks suspiciously similar to the offer the employer put to the union a month ago.

On that occasion, Network Rail thought it had sealed a deal, only for the union to turn around and reject it as "dreadful".

It was subsequently reported that Mick Lynch, the union's general secretary, had been undermined by his hard-left executive committee. The Times quoted an un-named source as saying that Mr Lynch, who has proved an astute communicator during this dispute, was "being bullied by his executive committee".

The offer rejected last month by the RMT was also identical to one that another rail union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), voted to accept at the time.

So it would be interesting to know whether, as the RMT implied today, this offer is in any way different from the one offered last month.

Biggest question surrounds work practice changes

And at the heart of that lies the biggest question of all, the extent to which the new offer from Network Rail is contingent on changes to working practices, which has always been the other key issue at the heart of this dispute.

The RMT insisted this afternoon that the new offer was "not conditional on accepting Network Rail's modernising maintenance agenda".

That would appear to be at odds with what some of the media appear to have been briefed in recent days.

Network Rail has always been clear that reform of working practices is essential if the railways are to have a viable future and has also argued that its ability to offer RMT members more would be improved were they prepared to sign up to reforms.

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The RMT has always opposed these on the grounds that 'reforming working practices' is code for 'job cuts'.

Network Rail's last offer promised no compulsory redundancies before January 2025.

It also needs to be remembered that the RMT has only agreed to put the latest offer to its members in Network Rail.

It has not done so with an offer put to its members who work for the train operators and who are represented by the Rail Delivery Group.

So, while the strike on Network Rail due to take place on Thursday 16 March has been called off - something that will bring joy to the many thousands of racegoers preparing to travel by rail that day to the Cheltenham Festival - there are still strikes by RMT members working for the train operators on 16, 18 and 30 March and 1 April.

Accordingly, there is some way before a line can be fully drawn under this round of rail stoppages.