Train operators make new pay offer to RMT

The RMT is considering a ‘best and final’ pay offer, which train operators made last night. It includes increases of five and four per cent for 2022 and 2023 respectively, along with proposals to adapt the railway to allow for ‘significant changes’ in demand. The Rail Delivery Group said staff who are paid below a certain threshold will receive a guaranteed £1750 in the first year, while pay would be backdated to the relevant 2022 pay award date, so that eligible staff benefit from a lump sum payment as soon as possible. The RDG also said that staff are guaranteed no compulsory redundancies until at least 31 December 2024, compared with the previous date of 1 April 2024. The operators have stepped back from the previous demand that trains should operated by drivers only, saying only that ‘train operating companies could separately make proposals to update and revise current on‐board roles – for example reflecting the use of new on-board technology for station/driver dispatch processes’. Other elements include a new ‘multi-skilled’ job description for station staff, who would be ‘trained and better equipped to take on a range of responsibilities aimed at better meeting the needs of customers‘. There would also be ‘station groups’ so that staff would be able to move between stations if, for example, there were staff shortages or where less able passengers needed assistance. Other key parts of the deal are new conditions applying to Sunday working and the use of part-time contracts and flexible working rosters and patterns. The RDG pointed out that Sunday travel has increased significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic. RDG chair Steve Montgomery said: ‘This is a fair offer that gives RMT members a significant uplift over the next two years – weighted particularly for those on lower incomes who we know are most feeling the squeeze – while allowing the railway to innovate and adapt to new travel patterns. It also means we can offer our people more varied, rewarding careers. ‘With taxpayers still funding up to an extra £175 million a month to make up the shortfall in revenue post-Covid, we urge the RMT to put this offer to its members so we can bring an end to this damaging dispute.’ The union has acknowledged the offer. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The National Executive Committee will be considering this matter and has made no decision on the proposals nor any of the elements within them. ‘We will give an update on our next steps in due course.’ At the moment, the RMT is still set to stage a strike of its driver members on 1 February, while the drivers’ union ASLEF will be calling out its members for two 24-hour stoppages on 1 and 3 February.

�50m of rail improvements in Cornwall approved

A plan to improve the railways linking Newquay, St Austell, Truro and Falmouth in Cornwall has won funding of almost £50 million from the government’s Levelling-Up fund. The total cost has been put at £56.8 million, and this will include £2.71 million from the council, with the balance coming from other funders. The Mid Cornwall Metro will provide hourly through trains on the route, which serves four of Cornwall’s largest towns. The work will include longer platforms at two Falmouth stations to take three-car trains, as well as a second platform at Newquay and a new crossing place on the Newquay branch at Tregoss Moor. Falmouth is Cornwall's main university town, but there is a smaller university campus in Newquay and higher education colleges in St Austell and Truro. All the sites will be within 15 minutes’ walk of Mid Cornwall Metro stations. Other improvements include a new signalling panel at Goonbarrow on the Newquay branch, as well as a general upgrade of Newquay station, including ticket machines, platform canopies, toilets and a larger station concourse, as well as landscaping of the street outside, ebike hire and a new bus interchange which would offer direct road links to Cornwall Airport Newquay. MP Steve Double, who represents St Austell and Newquay, said: ‘It’s great news to today have confirmation of our successful bid to the Levelling Up Fund for the Mid-Cornwall Metro. ‘We have been working together on this along with Cornwall Council for a number of years and we’d like to thank the council’s team and in particular Cabinet Member for the Economy Cllr Louis Gardner for their efforts in putting together such a strong bid. The Mid-Cornwall Metro project will allow residents of Newquay and the communities along the lines to not only have a direct route to Falmouth but also to the main line and beyond, and also provide economic benefit in allowing quicker, easier access for commuters and visitors coming into the area.’ Cornwall Council has calculated that 180,000 people would live no more than 4km from an MCM station and 280,000 within 10km, while the urban cores of Newquay, St Austell, Truro and Falmouth account for more than a fifth of the population of Cornwall between them.

New rail strikes called in wake of talks

ASLEF and the RMT have both called new walkouts after talks between the unions and management last week failed. There had been fresh hopes of a settlement, but the two unions have announced further strikes at train operators on 1 and 3 February. ASLEF said it had rejected the latest proposal, although this had not been the result of negotiations, which was made by a ’cartel’ allegedly created by the government and which represents some operators. The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘The proposal is not and could not ever be acceptable but we are willing to engage in further discussions within the process that we previously agreed.’ Drivers belonging to ASLEF at most English operators are now set to stage two 24-hour strikes on 1 and 3 February, although Merseyrail drivers are not involved, having just agreed a deal with Merseytravel about operating new trains. The minority of drivers who belong to the RMT will also be striking on 1 and 3 February. The union added that hhe decision to strike on 1 February will coincide with a TUC ‘day of action’ where several unions are coordinating their strikes during the cost-of-living crisis. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Our negotiations will continue with the rail operators to create a package on jobs, conditions and pay that can be offered to our members.’ The Rail Delivery Group responded: ‘It’s disappointing our fair and affordable offer, which would take average driver base salaries from £60,000 to nearly £65,000 by the end of 2023 pay awards, wasn’t put to the ASLEF members.  ‘With taxpayers still funding up to an extra £175 million a month to make up the shortfall in revenue post-Covid, it provided a significant salary uplift while bringing in long overdue, common-sense reforms that would mean more reliable services for passengers. Rather than announcing further unnecessary strikes, we ask ASLEF to recognise the very real financial challenge the industry is facing and work with us to deliver a better railway with a strong long-term future.’ The RDG also said that ‘although the discussions have been undertaken at a national level, each train operating company collectively bargains with local ASLEF representatives. The national agreement sets out the principles as the basis for those negotiations.’

Major landslip will block South Western line for a week

A major landslip at the weekend has left one of the tracks of the main line from London to Basingstoke hanging in mid-air and another track damaged, after the embankment supporting it collapsed. Network Rail has warned of ‘huge disruption’ for services west of Basingstoke, affecting places like Salisbury and Exeter. The slip, on an embankment near Hook station, left only the up two tracks of the four-track main line undamaged. The line has now been closed in the area, and there are no trains at Hook, Winchfield or Fleet.  Network Rail warned that the line will be closed for a week, but is hoping to reopen it on Monday 23 January. Wessex route director Mark Killick said: ‘This is a huge landslip and will have a massive effect. The main line to Basingstoke is the spine of our railway and there will be knock-on impacts across the route. ‘I can only apologise for the scale of the disruption and please ask that customers check before they travel.’ ‘We will need to stabilise the embankment, essentially stopping it moving, and then rebuild the railway where it has slid away. We’ll keep everyone informed of our progress.’ Network Rail said the embankment is made of a mixture of London clay and other local soils, which had become saturated after days of heavy rain during a very wet winter. The slip happened when the soil gave way along a 44 metre section of the embankment, which is 10 metres high, sliding out from underneath the tracks in what engineers call a ‘rotational failure’.

Gap still exists between sides in rail disputes

A wide gap still appears to exist between rail unions and management, which was revealed when both sides gave evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee. Tim Shoveller, who has been leading the negotiations for Network Rail, said fewer RMT members have been supporting the most recent strikes. ‘The strikes have been underway now for a very long period of time, but we have absolutely seen in the last sets of strikes, just before and then especially after Christmas, that there has been a return to work by a number of employees, both in maintenance and operations. It’s very localised; it tends to be groups of people which will come back in, rather than individuals on their own, but there is clearly a pattern we can see emerging,’ he said. He told the Committee that the chances of a settlement with the RMT were ‘seven out of ten’, but earlier in the session ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan had said that there was currently a ‘zero chance’ of coming to an agreement with the train operators over drivers. The unions accused the government of ‘sabotaging’ negotiations, and warned that their members would not agree to a settlement which combined changes to their conditions of employment with effective cuts in pay when inflation was taken into account. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘I want a green railway which is at the centre of a green revolution, that we decarbonise and deliver Kyoto, Oaris and whatever. What we are currently seeing, unfortunately, isn’t modernisation – it’s a pure productivity grab of a wish list of all the things that various companies could not achieve in the last two and a half decades.’ Rail Delivery Group chair Steve Montgomery said: ‘We have to put proposals forward to government using our expertise in areas of reform, that we can then put forward as a sensible proposal which government ultimately does sign off, to give us the mandate.’ The Rail Delivery Group is holding further discussions with the RMT and TSSA today, and the RMT will also be talking to Network Rail next week.

RMT leader condemns ‘attack on civil liberties’

Unions and opposition politicians have reacted angrily to the government’s new Bill which gives a minister power to decide on minimum levels of service during rail strikes. Business secretary Grant Shapps promised that there would be consultation with unions before setting out the levels which would legally apply to workers on the railway and in other public services, such as health, education border security and nuclear decommissioning. He told MPs: ‘The Government will always defend their ability to withdraw their labour. However, we also recognise the pressures faced by those working in the public sector. Yesterday I invited union leaders in for talks across Government, and I am pleased to say we have seen some progress. We want to resolve disputes where possible, while also delivering what is fair and reasonable to the taxpayer.’ Staff who walked out in defiance of the law could lose their employment protection and be dismissed, while unions could also face claims for damages. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch is among those who have condemned the proposed law. He said: ‘This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, Parliament and the workplace. One of the most important things in any democratic society is to have free trade unions. ‘This law could make effective strike action illegal, and workers may be sacked for exercising their right to withdraw their labour. The only reason this draconian legislation is being introduced is because the government have lost the argument and want to punish workers for having the temerity to demand decent pay and working conditions. ‘The government’s own impact assessment of minimum service levels shows it wouldn’t work.  They would be better off coming to a negotiated settlement with unions through dialogue.’ Unite leader Sharon Graham described the Bill as ’another dangerous gimmick from a government that should be negotiating to resolve the current crisis they have caused’, while Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner added: ‘The secretary of state claims that he made progress yesterday, but the read-out from trade union representatives was dismal. Is there any chance of a deal this year? Where is the consultation he mentioned for a meaningful way forward, or was that all for show?’

Little progress reported after rail dispute talks

Talks between the RMT and the government have not apparently resulted in any progress, and the industrial dispute is understood to be continuing. Before yesterday’s meeting, the RMT claimed that the contracts between the Department for Transport and train operators place control of any dispute in the government’s hands. The union’s general secretary Mick Lynch had said: ‘Today I want to see the government stop play-acting because the truth, written in black and white in their rail contracts, is that they’ve been in complete control of this dispute from day one. The train operators cannot move without government say so.’ The DfT has not responded directly to the union’s claim, but said: ‘The most important thing for passengers, businesses and the future of our rail industry, is for unions to put an end to these disruptive strikes. The rail minister will approach these latest talks as we have done since the start of this damaging industrial action – by working to facilitate reasoned, constructive discussions aimed at finding a swift resolution.’ Survey results ++ The results of a new survey published by passenger watchdog Transport Focus show that passengers are more concerned about the cost of travelling by train than anything else. Performance came just behind, while the third priority was trains running often enough, followed by accurate and timely information about the timetable, and then getting a seat on the train. Less important were helpful staff, clean stations and trains, and reliable WiFi, which was the 23rd category in TF’s list of 25 priorities. Finding sufficient space for luggage was the least important factor. Bargain rides ++ Two operators in England are offering discounted fares in the wake of the latest rail strikes. East Midlands Railway is offering returns to London for £40 First Class and £20 Standard Class until 21 January, while Northern has announced a ‘flash sale’ running between today and 13 January, with bargain tickets selling for as little as 50p, £1 or £1.50 on selected routes. Eurostar has also launched a sale of single tickets at £39 as part of a return booking to Paris, Lille, Brussels or Rotterdam, valid on most dates between 23 January and 24 March. Achilles appointment ++ Achilles Information Ltd has announced the appointment of Phil Scott as chief financial officer. Phil has had senior finance responsibilities in a number of software firms, including Flutter Entertainment and most recently Zepz, the cross-border payments business. He qualified as a chartered accountant with KPMG and holds an MA (Hons) in Economics from the University of St Andrews.

New talks planned today over rail disputes

Rail minister Huw Merriman is set to meet rail union leaders today in a new bid to resolve the disputes with the RMT and ASLEF, but the unions have repeated their allegation that the government is blocking a settlement. Transport secretary Mark Harper, has denied this, pointing out that he is arranging the talks between management and union representatives, while Department for Transport has added that ministers have had ‘polite, constructive meetings with a range of union leaders since taking office’. But RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Today I want to see the government stop play-acting because the truth, written in black and white in their rail contracts, is that they’ve been in complete control of this dispute from day one. The train operators cannot move without government say-so. ‘Passengers, workers and businesses are suffering and even rail company managers are beginning to break ranks in despair at the government’s approach. The minister cannot hide behind this fairy story that he is just a facilitator. His government can end this dispute today by taking out the conditions they put in to torpedo a resolution and let the companies make a deal.’ Today’s talks come on the heels of a new offer from the Rail Delivery Group to the drivers’ union ASLEF on Friday afternoon, which would mean pay rises of 4 per cent for last year and this. Proposed changes which are part of the deal include a Sunday Commitment Protocol, so that drivers rostered to work a Sunday shift would be contractually committed to doing so, unless alternative cover could be found. Other reforms include reducing the time it takes to train drivers through better use of technology, changing route-learning procedures so that drivers would be assessed on their progress rather than spending a fixed amount of time on learning, allowing suitably qualified managers to drive trains if necessary and also allow employers to transfer drivers temporarily to depots which are short of drivers due to sickness. The RDG also wants to introduce a ‘more diverse workforce’, by introducing part-time contracts and ‘more flexible scheduling arrangements’. RDG chair Steve Montgomery said: ’This is a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for train drivers while bringing in common-sense and long-overdue reforms.’

Mayor faces tough decision over TfL fares

Fares ++ The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has yet to announce how much fares on Transport for London will rise this year, after the government said regulated rail fares in England will rise by 5.9 per cent on 5 March. The Mayor faces a reduction in government funding for TfL if he tries to cap fares revenue, but he is also reported to be reluctant to increase bus fares, because buses are often the choice of poorer Londoners. He has already take steps to increase TfL’s earnings from passengers by no longer allowing Travelcards bought at National Rail stations in the south east to be used on TfL services.The Mayor told the London Assembly yesterday: ‘The basic principle is we try and make sure that public transport is as affordable as possible for those who need it the most and are least likely to afford it. My instinct is always to try and keep bus fares as low as we possibly can.’ City Hall said TfL is now starting discussions with the government about the implications of the forthcoming increases on National Rail. Strike ++ Some 40,000 RMT members are walking out today and tomorrow on National Rail as they stage the second 48-hour stoppage called by their union this week. There has already been a two-day RMT strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, and ASLEF drivers staged their own strike yesterday. As with previous RMT strikes, train services will be very restricted, with no trains running on many lines today and tomorrow. Timetables on Sunday are also set to be disrupted, and problems could spill over into Monday in some areas. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said he ‘wants to get back to the day job’, while RMT leader Mick Lynch is accusing the government of getting in the way. ‘The government is blocking the union's attempts to reach a negotiated settlement with the rail employers. We have worked with the rail industry to reach successful negotiated settlements ever since privatisation in 1993. And we have achieved deals across the network in 2021 and 2022 where the DfT has no involvement. Yet in this dispute, there is an unprecedented level of ministerial interference, which is hamstringing rail employers from being able to negotiate a package of measures with us,’ he said. The DfT has denied this, saying that ministers have held ‘polite, constructive meetings’ with union chiefs.

ASLEF drivers walk out, and union warns of more to come

Drivers belonging to ASLEF are striking at 14 English train operators today, and ASLEF leader Mick Whelan is warning that more walkouts are possible unless there is a settlement in the meantime. Train services are also being disrupted this week by two 48-hour RMT strikes, the first of which was on Tuesday and Wednesday and the second will be tomorrow and Saturday. RMT walkouts include Network Rail staff, and many lines are closed because no signallers are available. About one in five services run, but only on some key routes. Speaking to the BBC this morning, Mick Whelan said: ‘What we see at the moment is just a blanket “we want not to pay you, and we don’t want to pay you for what you do”. That isn’t working together or making offers to change working practices.’ It has been reported that drivers are being offered an annual pay rise of £2000, but Mr Whelan responded: ‘If that turns out to be an offer and they’ve leaked it to the press … I think that’s self defeating. It breaches the trust and the honourability of the negotations that we’re in. I keep being asked, quite naturally, “would you accept this?”. I don’t know what the strings are.’ He added: ‘I would much rather be here arguing against future cuts to our timetables … I would rather be talking to you about the green agenda and investment. I would rather talk about growth. I want to get back to my day job.’ The operators affected today are Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Govia Thameslink Railway (including Gatwick Express), Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia (including Stansted Express), Heathrow Express, LNER, West Midlands Trains (London Northwestern and West Midlands Railway), Northern, South Western Railway (including Island Line), Southeastern and TransPennine Express.