‘It only needs 2,000 to change their vote and deal will pass’

UK strikes happening first week of January

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Network Rail’s chief negotiator said a deal was close and that Union members could soon be won over in the ongoing dispute over pay and conditions. It comes as drivers and staff began the first of five consecutive days of walkouts in the worst train strike in 30 years hits the UK.

Some 40,000 RMT members began the first of two 48-hour strikes on Tuesday with the second walkout on Friday. Train drivers’ union Aslef will hold a one-day strike on Thursday, bringing about a total of five days of chaos.

Around half of Britain’s railway lines are currently closed and only a fifth of services are running.

Picket lines have been mounted outside railway stations across the country in a repeat of what became a familiar sight last year. Many places have no services, including most of Scotland and Wales.

Tim Shoveller said the Government-owned company wants to work with the RMT to make “clarifications where there’s been misunderstanding” with the rejected offer, and put it to another vote.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We only need 2,000 people who voted no last time to change their vote and the deal will pass. So, we think that’s within touching distance.”

He added: “What we’re saying to the RMT is that we know which areas had been misunderstood by some of our staff, their members, and we want to make sure that we can work with the RMT now to make clarifications where there’s been misunderstanding and put the deal out again.”

The optimistic remarks came as Transport Secretary Mark Harper called on the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to get “off the picket line and round the negotiating table”.

Mr Harper told Times Radio: “There is a very fair pay offer on the table which has been accepted by two of the trade unions on Network Rail.

“The RMT recommended that their members didn’t accept it, but actually a third of their members still voted in favour of it.

“I think it is time that the RMT got off the picket line and round the negotiating table to try and hammer out a deal with the train operating companies and Network Rail.”

The minister insisted he has had “perfectly constructive discussions” with all rail union leaders when asked if he has a good relationship with RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.

Mr Harper told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that more meetings with the rail unions will take place next week.

He said: “I would, frankly, rather they were taking place this week rather than the strikes happening, but that was a matter for the unions.”

Speaking from an RMT picket line outside London Euston station, Mr Lynch said: “The Government and the companies have not put any fresh proposals to us.

“They know what needs to be done to move towards a settlement, how to work through the problems and get to some documentation that we can all support, but that’s not happened so far.

“We’re hoping in the next few days that they will come to us and propose more meetings and more sessions of negotiation but at the moment that’s simply not there.

“The Government has let these strikes go ahead and that’s unfortunate.”

He added: “We would like to get into a situation where we’re negotiating constantly with the companies and where we didn’t have to have strike action, and then work up a settlement that our members could vote on and accept.

“But if we don’t get that there will have to be more action, and we’ve got a mandate that runs through to May this year, and if we have to go further, that’s what we’ll need to do.”

Last Tuesday night the new General Secretary of the TUC called for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister in a bid to break the deadlocked industrial disputes sweeping across the country.

Paul Nowak called for a change in government direction, saying ministers should open pay negotiations with unions.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak, Mr Nowak said public services were in crisis after years of “underfunding and understaffing.”

He wrote: “We can’t solve these problems without a fair deal for the people on the frontline.

“Every month experienced employees are quitting, with one in three public service staff now taking steps to leave their professions or actively considering it.

“This is simply unsustainable. But we cannot fix the staffing crisis in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere if we do not fix the underlying causes.

“That means talking in an open and constructive way about improving public sector pay. But so far your ministers have refused to negotiate directly about pay with unions.”

He added: “We want to find a resolution to the current disputes so our public service staff can get on with doing the jobs they love. And so our public services can start to improve for everyone who relies on them.”

Ministers could also hand striking workers more perks in a bid to end industrial action, government insiders say.

They are said to be considering offering increased holiday allowances, pension benefits and bonuses.

Whitehall sources say the Government will “hold firm” over pay with healthcare and transport unions believing additional benefits could break the deadlock.

Public sector workers typically enjoy pensions more generous than the private sector, which is likely to enrage taxpayers left to pay for a boost.

Fast-tracked pay negotiations for this year could be brought forward by a couple of months to February or March as nurses and ambulance workers are due to strike this month.

The perks would be on top of £154 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses given to 20,000 RMT signallers and track workers.

Network Rail insisted they have already put their “best and final offer” on the table two weeks ago, which included a nine per cent salary boost.

They also offered job security until 2025 but it was rejected by RMT members.

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