Rail companies and unions edged closer towards a deal yesterday with bosses at Network Rail hinting that they had put together a package that met one of the RMT’s key demands to end strike action.
The state-owned company had previously refused to rule out compulsory redundancies as part of efficiency savings that it was demanding in return for an improved pay offer.
“We think we’ve got a package of no compulsory redundancies and some other long sought-after things that the union and our employees have been after,” he told the BBC. “We want to move forward with that package but we can only do that once we are clear that the productivity [gains] to pay for it are in place. At the moment the union is refusing to agree with that.”
Yesterday 40,000 members of the union walked out for a second day of nationwide action, shutting much of the rail network. Services were reduced to 20 per cent of usual levels and lines that could open closed from 6.30pm.
“When we started negotiating, we were a mile apart,” said a senior Network Rail source “Before the strikes were announced on Monday evening, we were a foot apart. As it stands, we are now a few metres apart.”
The source added that the RMT had to be willing to give “in terms of efficiency savings” and not just take.
Shoveller also confirmed that the company was preparing to increase its offer of a 3 per cent pay rise, but not to the 7.1 per cent agreed yesterday by Merseyrail. This, he said, was “very unlikely”, adding that the company would have to find an additional £65 million of savings each year to make up the difference.
Network Rail is seeking to cut its headcount in engineering and signalling roles by 1,800, although it believes this can be achieved through voluntary redundancies.
More than 30 per cent of the engineering workforce is over 50. A separate source said that workers would be offered redundancy under the terms of a voluntary severance scheme (VSS) that has already been used in some earlier rounds of redundancy.
The scheme offers two weeks basic pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 35 years. Payments above £30,000 are subject to tax and national insurance contributions. An experienced track maintenance worker can earn £34,000 annually, according to the National Careers Service.
Last night Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, hailed the second day of strikes as a success.
He said: “Our members are leading the way in standing up for all working people trying to get a pay rise and some job security. In a modern economy workers need to be properly rewarded for their work, enjoy good conditions and have the peace of mind that their job will not be taken away from them.
“Grant Shapps [the transport secretary] needs to get in the room or get out of the way so we can negotiate with these companies who we have successfully struck dozens of deals with previously. RMT will continue its industrial campaign until a negotiated settlement is reached.” Lynch added that negotiations with Network Rail and the train operating companies were continuing, although tomorrow’s planned strike remained on.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, told the government in Westminster to have “respect” for workers by resolving the train dispute that was “crippling” the UK. She said: “[Workers] are paying the price for Tory anti-trade union rhetoric, in fact, anti-trade unionism, which I completely deprecate.
“We should seek to negotiate fair resolution to disputes, particularly at a time of inflation — inflation being exacerbated in the UK by the folly of Brexit.”
Disruption will continue today, with only 60 per cent of trains running, mainly because of a delay to services restarting .
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia also walked out yesterday in a separate dispute over pay.