Posted 8th December 2022 | No Comments

Industrial deadlock hardens as drivers vote for more strikes

The railway industrial relations crisis deepened last night, when the drivers’ union ASLEF announced that its members at 12 operators had voted ‘overwhelmingly’ to continue striking over pay during the next six months. The RMT also appears to have hardened its stance, when it emerged on Sunday night that widespread extensions of driver only operation were part of the latest offer from the Rail Delivery Group.

The new ASLEF ballot was a legal requirement. The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘This shows just how angry, and determined, our members are. The turnouts were huge and the mandates are overwhelming.

‘The resolve of our members is rock steady. A 93 per cent “Yes” vote, up on the very high figure last time, on an average turnout of 85 per cent shows that our members are in this for the long haul.

‘Now we don’t want to go on strike. We don’t want to inconvenience passengers, our friends and families use the railway too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of our country, and drivers don’t want to lose a day’s pay. Strikes are always a last resort.

‘But the intransigent attitude of the train companies, with the government acting, with malice, in the shadows, has forced our hand.

‘These drivers, who were, don’t forget, the people who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic, have not had a pay rise for nearly four years since April 2019. With inflation running in excess of 14 per cent the companies and the government are saying that they want us to take a real terms pay cut.

‘That’s why we are calling on the companies to come to the table with a proper proposal to help our members, their drivers, buy this year what they could buy last year. That is the way to prevent another strike and all the disruption that causes. The ball is now firmly in the train companies’ court. And we are calling on the government to help, not hinder, the negotiating process.’

The situation also worsened when the RMT said last night that it ‘just heard from the Rail Delivery Group and there will be no revised offer from them on the TOC-side of the dispute and they have been instructed by the government instead to take on the strike action set out, rather than trying to resolve the dispute through negotiations’.

The union has refused an offer which would have meant 4 per cent pay increases in 2022 and 2023.

It continued: ‘It is now absolutely clear that the RDG’s attempts to resolve the dispute by making a revised and improved offer have been blocked by the government.

‘The companies know that RMT cannot, and never will, accept the implementation of Driver Only Operation as a national principle for operating the railways.

‘It is also clear that it is the government itself, and not the RDG, that insisted that DOO was inserted in to the proposals on Sunday evening as a pre-condition, and the responsibility for the failure to progress proposals towards a resolution lies solely with the government, who have torpedoed the dispute resolution process.

‘The planned Industrial action for RMT Train Operating Company members goes ahead as scheduled as there is no resolution to the dispute and in fact a resolution to the dispute is now further away due to the government’s late intervention in the negotiating process.’

Major 48-hour walkouts affecting most train operators and Network Rail are set to go ahead on 13-14 and 16-17 December, and the RMT has announced a further stoppage, from 18.00 on Christmas Eve to 05.59 on 27 December, which will affect travellers during the late afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve. There are no National Rail trains on Christmas Day and very few on Boxing Day, but projects at more than 300 worksites over the holiday period are set to be disrupted.

Unless there is a breakthrough in the talks, there will be two more 48-hour RMT strikes on 3-4 and 6-7 January.

Operators have warned passengers not to travel during the strikes unless their journeys are ‘absolutely necessary’.

Rail Delivery Group chair Steve Montgomery said: ‘Regrettably, the RMT leadership’s refusal to put our proposed 8 per cent pay offer to its membership means we are unable to reach a resolution at this stage, although we remain open to talks. With the deadline having passed where disruption could be avoided even if strikes were called off, our focus is on giving passengers the maximum possible certainty so they can make their festive plans.

‘No one wanted to see these strikes go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.

‘We continue to urge RMT leaders to put our proposals to their members rather than condemning them to weeks of lost pay either side of Christmas during a cost-of-living crisis.’

Meanwhile, cleaners who work on railway contracts on behalf of third-party companies demonstrated outside the Department for Transport offices in London yesterday afternoon.

Their union the RMT is calling on Mark Harper to ‘give a mandate to train operators to end the scandal of outsourcing’. The RMT is calling for cleaners to receive £15 an hour, sick pay and ‘decent’ pensions.

The cleaners, who the RMT said are employed by contractors such as Churchill, Atalian Servest, Mitie and Bidvest Noonan, will be striking on 22, 23 and 31 December.