We face a summer of discontent caused by industrial action across our railways. Our union is now in dispute with a wide number of the companies where we act on behalf of our members, including Network Rail and more than a dozen train operating companies, and we stand on the cusp of launching historic industrial action ballots.
In April we wrote to all Train Operating Companies controlled by the Department for Transport, as well as Network Rail, seeking several assurances on pay and job security. The economic backdrop to this is, of course, the escalating Tory cost of living crisis, with inflation soaring past 11%. Alongside this, our industry is also facing a raft of totally unnecessary cuts imposed by the government in the wake of the pandemic.
Our demands are simple: no compulsory redundancies, pay rises that reflect inflation, and no forced changes to our members’ terms and conditions. So far, in many quarters, we are yet to receive those assurances and therefore the looming threat of industrial action dominates so much of what we are doing as a union.
That includes Network Rail (NR) where we are now moving to a ballot for industrial action. The company has not come to the table with anything close to a credible offer over pay across all grades – Bands 1-4 and 5-8 equivalent, as well as Controllers.
We were disappointed at the lack of progress that was made during recent meetings. This has left us in the position where our Organisers and Reps have now exhausted the National Level 2 Avoidance of Dispute process and we will begin the formal process of balloting. Of course, we are still willing to talk to NR, but the company must address the concerns of our members working for the company.
The situation is similar across the TOCs where our reps and Organisers are finding themselves frustrated at the lack of progress in meetings on pay and job security.
The silence from West Midlands Trains on pay and job security is deafening. Unless the company commits to negotiations by the end of the month, we will have no choice but to consider balloting for industrial action.
Meanwhile at East Midlands Railway pay talks have been taking place. We expect the company to respond positively to the pay claim our union submitted some weeks ago, but if no offer is made, we will urgently seek our members’ views on next steps.
The outlook is similar at CrossCountry trains where pay talks are scheduled for early June for those covered by collective bargaining. However, at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) the company has failed to begin pay talks and offered no job security guarantees. Meanwhile at Avanti West Coast, the lack of progress on pay and job security means we could move to a ballot within days.
All of this has prompted outrageous threats from the government. We had the ugly spectacle of Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, telling the media that he and Boris Johnson would bring in new anti-trade union laws in the event of a strike. Frankly, this shows the Tories are desperate.
We sent a message of solidarity to our comrades in the RMT after they voted overwhelmingly for strike action. We have also written to Boris Johnson after he suggested he would be willing to meet our rail unions in a bid to avert a strike.
We need assurances that pay will match the spiralling rate of inflation and that our members’ job security is paramount.
Johnson need only look at the different approach to industrial relations in other parts of the rail and transport industry – for example the offer of a 5.5 per cent pay increase and a no compulsory redundancies agreement at rail infrastructure company, XEIAD. And at Merseyrail, a one year pay offer has been made of 7.1 per cent increase, or £1,600, whichever is greater.
Our TSSA team is working very hard to get the best deal for members at companies right across the board. We are advancing towards historic industrial action ballots across our rail industry and stand ready to launch those ballots and take whatever action is necessary to defend jobs, pay and conditions across our railways.