Network Rail’s chief negotiator has urged union leaders back to the negotiating table to avert another rail strike, arguing that the company has met its demands and that its latest offer should be put to members to vote on.
On Wednesday, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which has as many as 40,000 members, announced another nationwide strike for 24 hours on 27 July in an ongoing dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Union leaders called the offer made by the state-owned company, which runs Great Britain’s rail infrastructure and most of its big stations, “paltry”.
Leaders said the offer – a 4% rise this year and up to 4% next year if workers accept some changes in working conditions – represented a pay cut for members, with inflation expected to hit 11% by the end of the year.
“We have had some constructive conversations with the RMT over the last few weeks so it was frankly staggering that the offer we made on Monday [was rejected],” said Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator.
“[It is] a good solid pay rise and we’ve met the other things they told us were really important to them, like a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, and that changes would be agreed with them. They were the three things in dispute with us and we’ve met every single one of them.
“My main message to the RMT is get back around the table, let’s get this productivity agreed and let’s make sure this deal is put in front of our staff so they get an opportunity to vote on it. I think the vast majority of our staff would agree this deal if the RMT were to agree to ask them.”
Shoveller, the managing director of the north west and central region at Network Rail, admitted the level of the pay award in the current environment compared with inflation “could be looked at by some to be a reduction in the cost of living”.
He said the negotiations had been made harder by the fact that unions have struck better deals with Mersey Rail and London Underground, but that the RMT was refusing to make changes that could lead to a better deal.
“But it is what we can afford,” he said, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday. “But that is the value of the productivity we have been able to negotiate with the RMT. Despite months and months of conversations there are some basic things we want to achieve.”
He cited one example of when staff attend a rail site for maintenance they currently arrive in as many as three or more vans to carry out various functions. Network Rail says it would make for significant cost savings if unions would agree to one van with all required workers attending.
“We can be more efficient if we work together with our employees to make the funds that are available to create the pay rise they want. But it all depends on collaboration and being able to negotiate and deliver on that. Unfortunately, as you can see, the RMT is really struggling to deliver on their part of the bargain. It has been a hard negotiation.”
A spokesperson for the RMT said workers at other transport companies were uniformly securing much better deals, criticising Network Rail’s ownership structure.
“It is not accurate to say that Network Rail’s offer is ‘a good solid pay rise’,” he said. “Last year London Underground members secured a pay deal of 8.4% and Merseyrail members have just won a 7.1% pay rise with no strings attached.
“We have also won significant pay rises on MTR Crossrail, the Docklands Light Railway and Transport for Wales among others. All this evidence shows that when railway organisations are not controlled by the Department for Transport, the union can secure decent pay rises through free collective bargaining.”
In late June RMT members staged three days of strikes that brought large parts of the British network to a halt.