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The RMT union has launched a new push to end strikes that have hobbled the UK rail network for more than a year, even as it begins a fresh round of industrial action.
Around 20,000 RMT staff walked out on Saturday morning at 14 train operating companies in a long-running row over pay, conditions and possible job losses, causing widespread disruption to passengers travelling on the bank holiday weekend.
But the start of the one-day action came hours after the union’s general secretary Mick Lynch wrote to rail bosses on Friday to propose a new road map to “navigate a way through the dispute”.
This reaching out marks one of the first signs of progress in the dispute in months, as there have been no detailed talks between the two sides since April. But the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, played down the chance of a breakthrough.
“While we welcome any attempt to resolve this dispute and we are always open to talks, sadly both the content and the timing of this offer — on the eve of strike action it is too late to avert — suggests it’s not a serious attempt to move forward,” the RDG said.
The dispute between train companies and the UK’s biggest transport union has run for nearly a year, as the rail industry and government demand cost cuts in the face of a sudden fall in revenue following the pandemic. Train drivers are in a separate dispute with operating companies, which has proven equally hard to resolve.
In the letter, seen by the Financial Times, Lynch called for a backdated one-year pay deal for the 2022-2023 financial year and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. The letter did not specify how big a pay rise the union is seeking.
The RMT leader proposed deferring discussions over industry-wide reforms and a pay deal for the current financial year until December, after a consultation on proposed ticket office closures is completed.
“I believe that we can bring clarity to everyone in the industry, that they will receive a pay increment for the previous year . . . with a guarantee of employment going forward, and that all of the change agenda that the companies wish to propose will be known in full and then addressed appropriately,” Lynch wrote.
The union, which represents rail workers including guards and ticket office staff, has turned down previous industry offers of a 9 per cent pay rise spread over the two years.
The most recent of these came in April, and required a commitment from the RMT’s leadership to agree to the principle of implementing sweeping modernisation — and a commitment to no further national strikes — in return for a one-year pay rise of 5 per cent and a guarantee of no compulsory job losses until 2025.
The second-year payout of around 4 per cent would then be contingent on discussions with individual train operators on changes to working practices.
RMT leaders have ruled out committing to ending national strikes before entering talks over workplace reforms, which rail bosses and the government insist are critical given a fall in revenue following the rise in homeworking.