Rail trade enters last-ditch talks to keep away from UK Christmas disruption

British rail unions and practice operators held last-ditch talks on Monday geared toward avoiding pre-Christmas strikes, after the rejection of a weekend pay provide deepened the long-running dispute.

The RMT met practice firms lower than 24 hours after it rejected an improved pay offer that was contingent on sweeping reforms that the UK’s largest rail commerce union stated would go away the railways “understaffed”.

The smaller TSSA union, which represents journey and transport staff, rejected the same provide on Sunday and has additionally held new talks with the Rail Supply Group, which represents practice operators.

RMT members started their industrial motion on the rail community in June, however a whole bunch of 1000’s of staff throughout the private and non-private sector are now following suit. Nurses, postal staff and college lecturers are set to strike within the run-up to Christmas; academics and junior medical doctors are being balloted on industrial motion; and ambulance staff are poised to announce dates for walkouts.

Whereas the provide from the practice firms appeared to have deepened the dispute, there was some hope that the worst affect of the strikes may very well be prevented if unions had been capable of attain a deal in a separate conflict with Community Rail, which owns and operates the UK’s rail tracks and infrastructure.

Union executives had been assembly on Monday to debate the Community Rail provide, and the disruption subsequent week may very well be lowered had been the unions to comply with put the physique’s deal to their members and droop the strikes.

Community Rail has supplied a 5 per cent pay rise this 12 months and 4 per cent in 2022, and a assure of no obligatory job losses till January 2025, however can also be demanding vital adjustments to working practices in return.

The primary of 4 48-hour strikes throughout Community Rail and 14 practice working firms is because of begin on December 13. Additional two-day strikes are due on December 16-17, January 3-4 and January 6-7.

Practice firms and Community Rail stated any deal would must be reached by the top of Monday to keep away from disruption subsequent week since they draw up their timetables and roster crew nicely prematurely.

The presents to unions from the RDG included a 4 per cent pay rise for every of 2021 and 2022 in addition to nicely as ensures on no obligatory redundancies till April 2024.

However each the RMT and TSSA stated the presents had been tied to unacceptable adjustments to the operating of the railways, together with the mass closure of ticket places of work and a widespread transfer to “driver-only operation” — the place drivers as an alternative of guards function the doorways on all carriages.

Union executives stated these proposed adjustments to conductors’ obligations had been significantly incendiary and had been included on the final second.

Whereas driver-operated doorways are already in place throughout 45 per cent of the rail community, unions have traditionally fought fiercely in opposition to the adjustments, which had been on the coronary heart of a dangerous year-long battle with Southern Rail in 2016 and 2017.

Christian Wolmar, a rail analyst and historian, stated placing “an entire collection of situations” on the pay provide was a mistake. “Pay and productiveness must be stored aside,” he stated.

One union government stated the RDG negotiators had appeared “embarrassed” at elements of the deal, which had no likelihood of being accepted.

Ministers and the rail trade argue that they want to herald far-reaching adjustments to working practices to assist fill a monetary black gap brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and a shift to distant working.

The federal government spent £13.3bn to assist the railways within the 12 months to March 2022, figures launched final week present.

Downing Avenue stated: “We proceed to induce the RMT to assume once more. There’s nonetheless time.

“We predict it’s the appropriate provide. It’s a big enchancment on what they had been supplied earlier than”.

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