Government accused of prolonging rail workers dispute as RMT demand a change of atmosphere
RMT leader tells MPs a change of atmosphere was needed to break the deadlocked row.
The Government has been accused of prolonging the bitter rail dispute by refusing to give the industry enough funds to resolve the deadlocked row over pay.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said a “change of atmosphere” from ministers as well as train operators and Network Rail (NR) was needed.
He told the Transport Select Committee that train companies were given £30 million by the Department for Transport (DfT) every time there was a strike, so although workers lost money, they didn’t.
“That is why it is taking so much time to come up with proposals,” he told MPs, adding that train operators had not given a figure for a pay rise even though talks have been continuing for months.
“Our members are fully committed to the industrial action – they don’t want their conditions ripped up.”
Mr Lynch said the RMT was being told to accept job cuts and worse terms and conditions before a pay offer is made, describing it as an “attack” on rail workers.
He said previous Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had “abused” him by calling him a “baron” and a “militant”, adding: “It needs a new atmosphere. The Government is making this dispute longer.”
The union had resolved disputes with companies such as Transport for Wales and Merseyrail, which were not tied to DfT funding, he said.
Asked what the train operators could do to help resolve the dispute, Mr Lynch said: “Stop asking us to accept things they know we cannot accept.”
Tim Shoveller, lead negotiator for NR, told the committee he was “continually hopeful” for an agreement to change working conditions, adding that talks with unions were continuing despite a series of strikes which have caused travel chaos for months.
He said talks were held on Tuesday and another meeting was planned for Friday.
He said there were signs of a “slight change” in the talks, telling MPs: “It might be that conversations have started that we have not had for a while.”
Mr Shoveller said NR had to implement changes to working practices on how the railways are maintained and do it quickly because it was running out of money.
He repeated that job losses would be achieved through voluntary measures and there would be no compulsory redundancies.
He said NR had made “huge movements” towards the position of the unions since the dispute started, adding they had not spelled out their demands on a pay rise after being given a two-year offer months ago.
“We have to make more use of the money we have got. This is about working collaboratively, more efficiently.”
Richard Scott, director of corporate affairs of the West Coast Partnership, which includes the Avanti franchise, responded to criticism of the operator’s service to and from London Euston in recent months by admitting it was not good enough.
“We are absolutely focused on making things better because we want to provide a robust, sustainable service.”
The operator was now moving to ensure it was not dependent on drivers working overtime and rest day working, usually at weekends, which is the case throughout the industry, he told the committee.
Avanti is recruiting almost 100 drivers and was planning a “significant stepping up” of services from December when timetables will not be so dependent on rest day working, he said.
Drivers stopping volunteering to work their rest days caused cancellations in July, adding: “We need a new way of working.”
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said after the meeting: “The claims made by Mick Lynch in today’s Select Committee are misleading. Since the end of franchising, the Government has paid train companies a fixed fee to run services.
“That means it is the taxpayer who loses money every time the RMT leadership call a strike, adding to the £600 per household already used by Government to support the railway during the pandemic.
“We call on the RMT to recognise the very real financial challenges faced by the industry post-Covid, which are being made worse by these strikes, and work with us to make the reforms needed to secure its long-term future.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “It’s completely false to claim the Department for Transport has provided train companies with £30 million each time there has been a strike on the railways.”