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The first nationwide railway protests since the 1980s commenced in June 2021. Since then, employees from the primary railway union, RMT, have gone on strike numerous times. The disagreement is with the 14 train companies who are hired by the government to operate railway services, primarily in England, which include important intercity and commuter routes.
In the subsequent month, the RMT was joined by Aslef, the union for train drivers, who have organized 14 strike days and seven instances of prohibiting work on rest days.
The goal of the unions is to secure pay increases without any conditions by disrupting the daily commutes of millions of passengers through frequent strikes.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), on behalf of the train operators and under the guidance of the government, has presented multiple suggestions. However, none have been considered satisfactory enough to be brought to the attention of either union members.
For the first time, the RMT has made an offer to its members who work for train operators, giving a glimmer of hope. An online referendum will be held until 30 November. Is it possible that everything will be resolved by Christmas? Here are the important questions and answers.
When and why did the industrial strike begin?
The rail unions are requesting salary increases that consider the current high inflation rate, without any strings attached. They are open to discussing reforms, but these discussions must be separate from negotiations. They also anticipate that any changes to work procedures will result in corresponding pay raises, in addition to the standard yearly increments.
However, the employers claim that their only option to accommodate a slight raise is to use funds from efficiency savings. Train operators and government officials argue that modernization is necessary due to the decline in rail revenue.
Due to the Covid pandemic, a significant portion of the foundation for season ticket sales has disappeared. Taxpayers are currently funding the rail industry with an additional £4,000 per minute, in addition to the usual £12,300 per minute subsidy.
In June 2022, after extended discussions, the RMT initiated the first national rail strikes in 33 years. These strikes and other forms of labor protests have affected the travel arrangements of numerous train passengers for 17 months. Frequent stoppages have caused significant disturbances and have made it challenging to plan ahead for travel.
Which train companies are participating in the nationwide conflicts?
The strikes being carried out by RMT and Aslef affect the 14 rail companies in England that have contracts with the Department for Transport. These companies include the main intercity operators.
- Avanti West Coast
- East Midlands Railway
- Great Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
London commuter operators:
- Greater Anglia
The train services included in GTR are Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern, and Thameslink.
Reworded: The South Western Railway, which includes the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.
Operators with a focus on the Midlands and northern regions of England.
- Chiltern Railways
- Northern Trains
- West Midlands Railway
Neither ScotRail nor Transport for Wales are involved.
What has changed?
The ongoing industrial strike has resulted in train operators increasing the number of services on days affected by RMT walk-outs, lessening the impact of the strikes. However, strikes led by the train drivers’ union, Aslef, have still caused significant disruptions to the rail network.
The union’s executive committee has previously rejected all offers from the RMT without putting it to a vote. However, after several weeks of discussions, the two parties have reached an agreement that can be presented to the members for consideration.
The offer applies to the period until April 2023 and offers either a 5% increase or a minimum of £1,750, whichever is greater, without any conditions. This is aimed at giving a boost to employees earning less than £35,000. For an individual earning £25,000, it will result in a 7% increase.
If the referendum is approved, members will receive a full year’s worth of back pay before Christmas. Discussions for future pay and conditions, including for the current year, will commence in February 2024 without any immediate risk of strikes.
What potential issues could arise?
The RMT has declined to endorse the proposal. Mick Lynch, the general secretary, stated to BBC Today: “We are not thrilled with this agreement. It is a minimal salary increase that does not keep up with inflation.”
“However, we are still presenting this to our members as the proposed conditions that the government was attempting to impose on us, including the closure of ticket offices, implementation of driver-only trains, longer working hours, and other changes, have now been eliminated.”
The outcome is uncertain. If our members decline, we will proceed with a campaign, which may involve industrial action.
In the previous month, RMT members overwhelmingly voted 90 to 10 in support of additional industrial action, with a turnout of 64 percent.
The lack of a suggestion to approve, possibly indicating internal conflicts within the RMT, could result in the rejection of the offer. However, members of the union have already suffered significant financial losses from going on strike. They have not received a salary increase in 18 months and may be pleased with the possibility of receiving a substantial amount of back pay. Therefore, it is probable that they will agree to the offer.
What are the employers and ministers stating?
According to a representative from the Rail Delivery Group, accepting the vote would result in a break from ongoing strikes during the holiday season and into the following spring.
There would be talks “aimed at addressing the companies’ proposals on the changing needs and expectations of passengers as well as unlocking further increases for staff”.
The goal is to ensure a stable and lasting future for the railway and its employees.
A representative from the Department for Transport (DfT) stated: “We are pleased that the RMT is presenting this just and sensible proposal to its members for a vote, which is a positive move towards resolving this conflict.”
The proposal from the Rail Delivery Group includes a promise to avoid any forced layoffs and provide an equitable salary increase, while also implementing necessary changes to ensure the sustainability of our railway system in the future.
We hope members of the RMT will acknowledge the advantages, agree to this proposal, and cease the RMT’s strike.
Is everything finished by Christmas?
Not even close. The conflict between Aslef and the opposing party remains unresolved. The labor union for train operators last participated in a nationwide strike on October 4th. Although there are no scheduled strikes in November, it is probable that more strikes will occur leading up to Christmas and potentially in the beginning of the new year.
Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, expressed to The Independent that he believes a new government may be required in order to achieve harmony in the workplace.
The speaker stated that this is a political disagreement instigated by the government. They believe that if it were an issue in the industrial sector, involving only employers and unions, it would have already been settled.
He referred to the modifications outlined in the agreement as a “land grab” for terms and conditions, resulting in a 20% decrease in pay.
According to Mr. Whelan, the government needs to provide a solution before the industrial action comes to an end.