Our RMT correspondent reports
THE THREAT BY RMT AND TSSA of a national rail strike has forced Network Rail to come up with an improved pay offer for signal workers and track maintenance workers. At the time of writing, this offer is being considered by the unions and their local workplace representatives.
RMT members voted by over 80% for strike action, on a turnout of over 60%. This convincing vote showed the anger of members at the previous pay offer made by Network Rail – a four year deal, with 0% this year and RPI for 2015, 2016, and 2017. TSSA – always a less militant union – had 53% in favour of strike action on a 52% turnout.
After the strike was called, Network Rail came back and offered a 1% rise this year and 1.4% next year. It isn’t what the unions were looking for, but it’s a big advance on their previous offers.
The other aspect of the pay talks was the guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, which RMT has had with Network Rail for some years. There are many redundancies coming up as signal boxes are closed, and all signalling across the country is moved to 14 ‘Rail Operating Centres’. With the latest offer being a two year deal with a two year guarantee, the union has finally achieved our aim of getting a guarantee that lasts as long as the pay deal.
This is the first pay claim since Network Rail was taken back into the public sector last September. Renationalisation was forced on the government when it accepted that Network Rail’s £30billion debt had to be counted under the public sector borrowing requirement, because the lenders knew that the state would pay it in the last resort. Network Rail’s approach in the pay talks has been dictated by their masters in the Department for Transport, so the latest offer is a retreat by the government in the face of united and determined unions.
The RMT’s ballot result was so convincing that the strike would be legal even under the harsher anti-union laws the Tories want to bring in. These changes will make strikes much harder to call. Some union leaders are saying it would be impossible, mainly because they never want to call strikes whatever the circumstances and this gives them an easy get-out, but the RMT has shown it will be difficult but still possible to meet these harsher restrictions.