‘All trains at standstill’ after Bank Holiday as workers strike

Network Rail workers threw down the first big industrial relations challenge to the Government when they voted overwhelmingly in favour of going on strike over pay. (PA Wire)
Network Rail workers threw down the first big industrial relations challenge to the Government when they voted overwhelmingly in favour of going on strike over pay. (PA Wire)
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TALKS aimed at averting a strike by thousands of Network Rail workers over the Bank Holiday are to be held at the conciliation service.

Within hours of the RMT union announcing a 24-hour walkout from 5pm on Monday May 25, Acas said a meeting will be held on Monday.

A statement said: “The chief executive of Network Rail has written to Sir Brendan Barber, the chair of Acas, asking us to reconvene talks with RMT, TSSA and Unite in an attempt to find a way of resolving the current dispute.

“We have been in contact with all three trade unions and they have accepted the invitation to attend talks, which will take place in London, on Monday morning.”

Rail passengers have been warned that services will be at a “standstill” the morning after the Bank Holiday if the strike goes ahead.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, including signallers and maintenance staff, are also set to ban overtime for 48 hours on the Bank Holiday Monday and Tuesday.

The union said services will be hit from the Monday but warned that the biggest impact will be on the Tuesday. “Services will be at a standstill,” said one official.

The strike will affect football fans leaving Wembley after the Championship play-off final, which kicks off at 3pm on bank holiday Monday.

There is a programme of Network Rail engineering work being conducted over the bank holiday weekend.

This is seriously disrupting the rail travel plans of fans of Preston North End and Swindon Town, whose teams meet in the League One play-off final at Wembley on Sunday May 24.

The strike announcement follows a huge 4-1 vote for action from RMT members, well above a planned threshold being brought in by the new Government. The action poses the first big industrial relations test for the Conservatives.

The RMT said it has rejected the latest Network Rail (NR) pay proposals as falling “well short” of what is required to maintain the living standards, job security and working conditions for nearly 16,000 staff across NR operations and maintenance.

Union members have rejected a four-year deal worth £500 this year and three years of increases matching RPI inflation as well as a no-compulsory-redundancy commitment to December 2016.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members have decisively rejected the pay package offered by Network Rail and the failure of the company to make any moves whatsoever in light of the overwhelming vote in the ballot has left us with no option but to move to a rolling programme of industrial action.

“We have a massive mandate for action which shows the anger of safety-critical staff across the rail network at attacks on their standards of living and their job security.

“It is appalling that NR are refusing point-blank to take this dispute seriously, to understand the deep-seated grievance felt by their staff and to come forward with a renewed offer which protects pay, jobs and safety.

“We have made it clear that as far as RMT Is concerned, the one-off, non-consolidated, lump sum payment this year is wholly inadequate and fails to recognise the massive pressures staff are working under to keep services running safely at a time when the company is generating profits of £1 billion.

“It is our members battling to keep Britain moving around the clock and they deserve a fair share from Network Rail for their incredible efforts.

“In addition, we are extremely concerned that the no-compulsory-redundancy commitment only applies to the first two years of the four-year deal.

“RMT is in no doubt that this leaves operations and maintenance members extremely vulnerable, especially with the continued development of rail operating centres and the ongoing cuts programme at Network Rail.

“Our rail staff deserve a fair reward for the high-pressure, safety-critical work that they undertake day and night and the last thing that we need is a demoralised, burnt-out workforce living in fear for their futures and the message has come back loud and clear that that is exactly how they feel about the current offer from Network Rail.

“RMT remains available for talks and we hope that the company will appreciate the anger amongst staff at the current offer on pay and conditions from Network Rail and that they will agree to our call to come back to the table with an improved package.

“We expect rock-solid support for this action and will be taking a new campaign to the public under the banner Our Jobs - Your Safety, as we build support for the fight to stop this attack on a workforce whose core role is to deliver a safe railway to the British people.”

It will be the first national rail strike since 1994. The walkout is likely to force people to drive, raising the prospect of traffic chaos.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) is also balloting its members at NR for strikes over the same issue, with the result due later today. The union represents white-collar staff.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “I condemn any industrial action that disrupts the travelling public. Network Rail has put a fair offer on the table and has sought further talks with the unions.

“Rail passengers will not thank the unions for inflicting this unnecessary disruption.”

Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: “This strike is deliberately timed to cause maximum disruption to families trying to enjoy the half-term break and millions more returning to work after the bank holiday. I find it deplorable that the RMT can hold the travelling public to ransom in this way.

“This week we have been talking to Acas to try to get the RMT back around the table. The public knows only too well that our railway must improve. We want to work with the unions so that we can reward our staff through improved productivity.

“The RMT say we can afford more than what’s on offer. What they don’t say is that Network Rail is a public service body and that all profits are reinvested in building a bigger, better, more reliable railway. Any pay increase comes from the pockets of taxpayers and fare-paying passengers.”

Members of the TSSA union have also voted in favour of strikes in the same dispute.

Around 53% backed walkouts, and almost 80% were in favour of other forms of industrial action, in a turnout of more than 50%.