Train strikes threaten to blight Britain for another six months

Mick Lynch clashes with Stephen Dixon over rail strikes

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Britons may be facing a further six months of rail strike misery after a transport trade union announced it had a renewed mandate for industrial action. Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted in favour of allowing further strikes to be called over pay and conditions after a summer of walkouts.

The union said that across both Network Rail and 14 train operators, the average turnout was 70.2 percent and 91.7 percent were in favour of renewing the mandate – well above the 40 percent threshold required by law.

The vote does not mean that strike action will be called, but will mean the RMT will be able to announce further industrial action if talks fall through.

An RMT source said the vote to renew a strike action mandate every six months is required by law, and the vote provided a stronger position for the union in ongoing talks.

The union called off three proposed strike days on the national train networks at the start of the month, after it said it had secured “unconditional talks” with rail chiefs.

Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, described the result as “disappointing”, adding: “My message to union leaders is to keep working with employers – not against them – the very future of the industry depends on it.”

However, there are concerns about the impact Government legislation – currently going through Parliament – may have on the ability for unions to take effective industrial action in the New Year.

At the beginning of the year, Network Rail put forward an offer including a 4 percent pay rise for workers, backdated to January, followed by a further 2 percent increase next year, as well as a 2 percent conditional on modernisation criteria being met.

The trade union has previously cited soaring inflation as a key reason they were seeking improved pay and conditions for members.

After rejecting the initial offer, union members staged walkouts on days from June into the start of November.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said the results were “fantastic”, but that “negotiations will continue with Network Rail and the train operating companies”.

He added: “This union is determined to continue with this campaign until the employers understand that they need to respond to our members’ aspirations on job security, pay and working conditions.”

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator in the dispute, noted the economic strain Britain’s rail was network was under.

Commenting on today’s ballot outcome, he said: “The only way to solve this dispute, for both our people and our passengers, is around the negotiating table, which is why we look forward to continuing intensive talks in the days ahead with the hope of finding a breakthrough and an amicable solution for all.

“What’s clear for all of us is that striking is not changing the railway’s precarious financial position, but actually only making it worse.

“The railway has not recovered from the pandemic and is currently losing millions a day, which makes reaching a deal both tough and essential.”

Meanwhile, Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group – which represents train operator companies – said passengers would be “dismayed” by the result.

He commented: “We recognise the strength of feeling among our people, and call on the RMT leadership to continue to work with us to agree the vital reforms necessary to both afford a fair pay deal, and secure a sustainable future for the railway which is currently taking more than its fair share from the taxpayer.

“Further counterproductive strike action would only heap more misery on our customers and struggling businesses in the run up to Christmas, and continue to undermine the viability of an industry we all want to see thrive.”

The union – which also represents seafarers – said across Network Rail and the train companies it is in dispute with, the overall ‘yes’ vote was 64.4 percent of members.

It comes as nurses represented by the Royal College of Nursing voted in favour of industrial action over pay and workload.

The Fire Brigades Union has also announced it will be balloting members over strike action.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack claimed firefighters were resorting to using foodbanks, adding: “Our members worked through the pandemic to help protect their communities, taking on extra duties to do so. A further real-terms pay cut is an absolutely disgusting way to thank them.”

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