Rail employers have made an offer to the biggest union in the industry in a bid to resolve a long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.
The Rail Delivery Group said (RDG) it has offered the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) a pay rise of eight per cent over two years with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies to April 2024.
Thousands of RMT members across 14 train operators and Network Rail are due to stage two 48-hour strikes later this month.
The RDG said its offer will deliver “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements.
A statement said a draft framework agreement gives the RMT the chance to call off its planned industrial action and put the offer to its membership.
The strikes, on December 13-14 and 16-17, coupled with an overtime ban over Christmas, would result in a month of disruption on the network, said the RDG.
Employers tabled the draft framework agreement after several weeks of intensive talks.
If the strikes do go ahead, it would mean over 40,000 RMT members across Network Rail and 14 rail firms walk out.
A spokesperson from the RDG said: “This is a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff.
“If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge that they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024.
“With revenue stuck at 20 per cent below pre-pandemic levels and many working practices unchanged in decades, taxpayers who have contributed £1,800 per household to keep the railway running in recent years, will balk at continuing to pump billions of pounds a year into an industry that desperately needs to move forward with long-overdue reforms and that alienates potential customers with sustained industrial action.
“We urge the RMT leadership to put this offer to its membership and remove the threat of a month of industrial action over Christmas that will upset the travel plans of millions and cause real hardship for businesses which depend on Christmas custom. Instead, we urge the RMT to move forward together with us and so we can give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”
The RDG said the proposed reforms of working practices include:
- To meet the growing demand for weekend leisure travel, particularly on Sundays, current voluntary working arrangements across the railways will be formalised
- Use of part-time contracts and flexible working rosters and patterns to encourage a more diverse workforce who can fit shifts around other commitments
- The creation of a new “multi-skilled station worker” role, with station staff trained and equipped to take on a range of responsibilities aimed at “better meeting the needs of customers”.
It is understood that the RMT’s executive committee is considering the offer.
The RDG said it was proposing that the process of buying tickets at stations will be modernised, with ticket office staff moving out from behind glass screens to other parts of the station.
“Customers will benefit from customer-facing, multi-skilled staff in public areas equipped with the knowledge and skills to advise them and help them on their journeys.
“This reflects the fact that just one in eight tickets are bought at station ticket offices, with most sales now taking place online, through apps and self-service ticket machines.
“Traditional ticket office facilities will be re-purposed or closed over time, in line with changes made on the London Underground several years ago.
“Depending upon local circumstances, the re-purposing could include conversion to a commercial outlet or the creation of a passenger hub facility to respond to passengers’ needs at major and key interchange stations,” the RDG said in a statement.
To meet the growing demand for weekend leisure travel, particularly on Sundays, current voluntary and ad-hoc working arrangements across the railways will be “formalised”, said the RDG.
It added: “Where it doesn’t already happen, a new contractual commitment for staff to work rostered Sundays, either as part of their core working week, or as an additional working day remunerated at the existing rate set out in company-specific agreements.”
RDG said it was also proposing a move to driver only operation (DOO) – where drivers operate the doors on all carriages.
“It does not mean removing staff from onboard trains. It allows staff on board to focus on other safety issues and looking after customers on board with journey advice, selling tickets etc.
“The aim would be to see this extended across more areas of the network – where appropriate technology and rolling stock allows – to improve safety of train dispatch and provide greater resilience in times of disruption.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of troops are on stand-by to cover for ambulance crews, firefighters and Border Force staff as ministers prepare for a wave of strikes across public services in the run-up to Christmas.
The Cabinet Office said that about 2,000 military personnel, civil servants and other volunteers from across government have been training as part of the Government’s contingency planning.
They included up to 600 armed forces personnel and 700 staff from the Government’s specialist Surge and Rapid Response Team, as well as from other parts of the Civil Service.
Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi said it was the “right and responsible thing to do” as ministers sought to minimise the disruption to the public.
But he provoked a furious response from trade unions after he linked the strikes to the war in Ukraine, saying they are “exactly what Putin wants to see”.
Mr Zahawi argued that the cost-of-living crisis was the result of the energy price shock following Russia’s invasion of its neighbour and that above-inflation pay awards would simply “embed” inflation in the system.
“We’re coming up to Christmas, it’s unfair, in my view, for the unions to really damage and disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods at Christmas,” he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme.
“They should really rethink and they should reflect on this because that is exactly what Putin wants to see, that division.”
Tonight, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association said it has received new offers from both Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group to resolve the national dispute over pay, jobs and terms and conditions, following last ditch talks over the weekend.
TSSA organising director Luke Chester, said: “I am glad that the Government has finally given authority to the employers to make offers in an attempt to resolve our dispute.
“We are considering the detail of these offers very carefully and will be consulting our reps tomorrow.
“The RDG offer, in particular, contains more strings than a harp, including some which have never previously been discussed.
“Today’s RDG offer also omits significant points that had previously been negotiated.
“There is nothing in the offer for either managers or controllers in train operators, and our union would expect any serious offer to include all those staff covered by the dispute.
“I have requested an urgent meeting with the RDG on Monday to understand their rationale behind making these last-minute changes and seek to address our concerns.”