Talks continue but disruptive rail strikes still expected to go ahead

·3-min read
National rail strikes are still expected to go ahead (Matthew Pover/Avanti West Coast/PA) (PA Media)
National rail strikes are still expected to go ahead (Matthew Pover/Avanti West Coast/PA) (PA Media)

Talks aimed at averting crippling strikes on the railways are continuing but with little hope of a last-minute deal to avert industrial action which will lead to travel chaos next week.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail (NR) and 13 train companies will walk out on June 21, 23 and 25, leading to the cancellation of thousands of services, and disruption on the days in between the strikes.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

NR chief executive Andrew Haines told a briefing on Wednesday: “Talks have not progressed as far as I had hoped and so we must prepare for a needless national rail strike and the damaging impact it will have.

“We, and our train operating colleagues, are gearing up to run the best service we can for passengers and freight users next week despite the actions of the RMT.

“We will keep talking to try and find a compromise that could avert this hugely damaging strike but, make no mistake, the level of service we will be able to offer will be significantly compromised and passengers need to take that into account and to plan ahead and only travel if it’s really necessary to do so.”

NR has made a 2.5% pay offer to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), which is balloting its members in NR for strikes, but discussions are continuing with the RMT.

Mr Haines said NR is looking to cut between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs, insisting it can be achieved through voluntary means, particularly as a “significant” number of employees are over the age of 60.

NR wants to introduce changes to working practices linked to technologies such as using drones to check tracks and infrastructure, which the company says would be safer than having workers on the tracks, as well as more cost-effective.

There is a history of resistance to change due to technology, but we cannot hold back the tide

Andrew Haines, Network Rail

“There is a history of resistance to change due to technology, but we cannot hold back the tide,” said Mr Haines.

He cited a move by NR to introduce an app to communicate with staff across the country, which he said took a year to seek union agreement.

The railways are facing a “fundamental financial deficit”, with fewer passengers travelling as a result of the pandemic, especially on Fridays, although numbers have improved for weekend leisure travel, said NR.

Meanwhile, the RMT has called for talks with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

General secretary Mick Lynch said in a letter that the Treasury is “calling the shots” and not allowing rail employers to reach a negotiated settlement.

“In effect, in recent weeks, the union has been negotiating with the Government but the Government have not been in the room,” he wrote.

Mr Haines denied the RMT’s claim, saying the Treasury has set a financial framework, but NR is leading talks on the productivity it believes is needed for pay rises.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Unions have gone on the record saying they don’t negotiate with this Government. They’re right: they must negotiate with the employers.

“The industry is offering daily talks to resolve the strikes. We continue to encourage the unions to take them up on that offer and negotiate a fair deal for everyone instead of going straight to the last resort of strikes.”

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