UK’s biggest rail union seeks mandate to continue strikes into spring

Rail passengers face the prospect of strikes continuing into the spring and new year, after the UK’s biggest transport union asked its members to back continuing a nationwide campaign of industrial action for a further six months.

The RMT has begun the process of balloting its more than 40,000 members at infrastructure operator Network Rail and train operating companies over a mandate for a further six months of walkouts, according to two rail industry executives.

A copy of a document sent to members and published online by the RMT on Wednesday urged workers to take part in a vote on October 18.

In a message to members, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This is your chance to keep up the pressure on the employers and . . . government.”

The union’s mandate for walkouts ends on November 24, meaning a fresh vote is needed to hold strikes beyond that date. Members overwhelmingly voted to back the first six months of strikes in May this year.

The RMT has since led the most significant industrial action to hit the British transport industry in a generation, repeatedly bringing railways to a near standstill.

Drivers’ union Aslef has also been holding strikes since the summer, but its mandate does not run out until January.

The RMT is locked in a months-long dispute with railway companies over pay, job security and changes to working practices, after the industry’s finances were dealt a severe blow by the loss of passenger revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government, which controls the industry’s finances, and train operators argue that significant pay rises can be unlocked only if there is major reform to working practices, particularly among RMT members in Network Rail’s maintenance division.

The union has said it does not oppose modernisation but that it cannot accept the level of changes to its members’ jobs that have been proposed.

A managing director at Network Rail on Wednesday said he had detected some signs of progress in talks with the RMT.

“It may be in this last week or so that we are seeing a slight change. I’m going to look for every opportunity I can to find a way out of this dispute, because we know it’s causing huge damage to our industry,” Tim Shoveller told the House of Commons transport select committee.

Lynch told MPs at the same hearing that to secure a deal the rail industry would need to “back down” on some of its “dramatic” demands over changes to working practices before the talks moved to pay.

Network Rail is pushing through changes to working practices without the RMT’s backing, and a consultation with maintenance staff on the proposals ended this week.

The owner of the UK’s rail network on Wednesday said a pay offer equating to a rise of more than 8 per cent over two years had been on the table since July.

“We welcome further talks to find a breakthrough and agree a deal,” Network Rail said.

The RMT and Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operating companies, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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