This RMT union is still there Consider train operator’s ‘best and final offer’ Aims to end at least one of the longest running and most bitter rail disputes in the country which has cost nearly £5bn in lost ticketing revenue.
But any agreement is contingent on a long list of reforms aimed at cutting rail costs – which could include eliminating catering services on some trains and ending working conditions agreed more than half a century ago, when british railways Still a thing.
These are the conditions attached to the transaction.
Reminds me of background?
Seven months have passed since the first nationwide rail strike since the 1980s. The disputes that led to the shutdown centered on pay, job security and work arrangements.
Finally, this week’s train operators – represented by industry groups Railway Transport Group (RDG) – An offer to the RMT union was not immediately rejected. Remuneration (9.2% overall increase over two years, with wages of at least 10% for staff earning £30,000 or less) and job security (with no mandatory redundancies until 2025 at the earliest) appear to have been resolved.
The main hurdle now: Changes to work arrangements that employers say are crucial to repairing the disastrous rail finances. The union’s executive committee is poring over the details – but if the union accepts the conditions attached to the deal, it could signal various changes to passengers and staff.
Let’s start with the buffet…
…or the trolleys that shuttle back and forth on certain trains across the country.
The condition: “All catering services are to be reviewed against the affordability and value of the company.”
Currently there is no consistency except that most intercity trains have a buffet.
Randomly select other trains that have trolleys. In some parts of the country, you might be given a cup of tea and a biscuit on the one-hour trip, while on the nearly three-hour journey between Brighton and Cambridge, you have to bring your own.
I predict the disappearance of catering for short-distance commuter services: due to the nature of short-distance travel, demand for food/drinks is very low anyway, and sales have dried up as commuting has collapsed and too many opportunities to buy at stations.
In the future, if there’s enough demand to buy a cup of tea and bacon wraps for £6 (like at Avanti West Coast), there will be catering instead of ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’.
Is there still the possibility of driver-only operations and ticket office closures?
No, both thorny issues are now on hold on the rail spur.
Extending “driver-only operations” – the norm for most passengers on UK trains – is no longer a red line for train operators and government ministers signing any deal.
While the employer still envisages that ticket offices will be closed to free up staff to help passengers, the deal is not contingent on union support for closures.
The idea will be brought up for consultation. Having said that, the deal accepts a new “multi-skilled station grade” designed to provide more holistic assistance to stations, and station staff will be called to work at nearby stations if required.
Will working on Sundays become mandatory?
Not applicable to current employees. One of the most ridiculous aspects of the rail industry, firmly rooted in the Victorian era and the random local agreements reached since then, is that there are tons of trains running each week entirely on overtime and goodwill.
Case in point: On the state-run Northern Trains, staff on the east side of the Pennines are expected to work any day of the week, while those on the west side are not expected to work weekends unless they are willing to earn some overtime pay.
No airline (except El Al, which respects the Jewish Sabbath) would consider such an arrangement. That means Sunday service is more erratic than other days, even when you subtract the engineering work.
Sadly, successive governments have failed to address this issue – and even this deal has helped.
While Sundays will become a mandatory part of the shift pattern, existing employees will be able to opt out, while those currently working Sundays only overtime will continue to work on that basis. It’s a fudge, but one that seems to be headed in the general direction of the 21st century.
What do history books tell us?
Much about why railroads seem to many to be costly and inefficient. The red, blue and green books governing conditions of service (using different colored books for different levels of staff) remained largely in effect in the days of the NRW confrontation with British Rail.
They stipulate, for example, that employees who are unable to continue in their roles can remain on full pay “for two years” if no “suitable alternative employment” is available.
For example, a train manager might argue that an alternate role helping to create a training program is not “suitable” and therefore entitled to stay at home on full pay unless another role is found.
The most extreme example I’ve heard (and this may be apocryphal, as I haven’t found a record of it) is a condition in the blue book that supposedly stipulates extra pay for employees who happen to work in a building that has a microwave oven inside.
The goal today is that new technologies should not require employees to pay extra.
How likely is the rail settlement?
I am optimistic that the RMT and the train operator will reach a settlement. Both sides worked intensively last weekend and this week. They want a deal that union negotiators believe can be brought to the national executive committee and, if they agree, to union members for a vote.
Removal of insistence on driver operations and ticket office closures will be seen as a victory for RMT.
But that’s just one of three controversies. There is a parallel involving RMT and Network Rail, which employers say they are optimistic about.
Conflict between train operators and operators Aslev, the train drivers union, appears to be far from a deal. The initial proposal of 8 per cent under two years of broad reforms was met with derision by union leaders.
It immediately triggered a strike call— Happening on Wednesday, February 1 and Friday, February 3leading to the suspension of trains across much of England, but had little impact on Wales and Scotland.