On Monday 12 December, TSSA met with Rail Minister Huw Merriman and representatives from Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and Department for Transport (DfT) to discuss the ongoing rail dispute. Industry comments in the meeting hinted that a better offer could be made with government approval.
“The government continues to make it clear that their job is not to negotiate, only to facilitate” explained TSSA Interim General Secretary Frank Ward, following the meeting. “We continue to point out that it is government which is blocking the ability for progress to be made by withholding authority for employers to negotiate freely and with an improved offer. And this was backed up by comments made by industry representatives in the meeting, revealing that a financial figure is currently sitting with the DfT for consideration.”
Talks between TSSA and the RDG (the umbrella body representing train operators) stalled following an unacceptable offer being tabled, and rejected, on Sunday 3 December. Despite hopes of further talks to improve the offer, no progress has since been made, with the blockage clearly lying with government.
During Monday’s discussion, industry body the RDG revealed that they had undertaken considerable work on reforms and financial savings. They said there was a “significant figure” which is with the Department for Transport and which TSSA understands could form an increased pay pot for negotiations on an improved offer to be based, providing government sign off on it.
The rail dispute covers members in Network Rail and train operating companies which fall under the DfT. However, in Network Rail an improved offer has been recommended to TSSA members in a referendum, which closes at noon on Thursday 15 December.
The Network Rail offer addresses all the issues in the dispute, with pay worth at least 5% this year (at least 7% for those on £25,000 or lower) and a further 4% from 1 January, plus additional financial benefits through discounted travel, job security until January 2025, and agreement on terms and conditions.
“The position in Network Rail demonstrate that agreement and settlement can be achieved where employers have the ability to negotiate with a degree of freedom”, explains Frank. “Sadly, the situation is very different for train operating companies, where an inferior offer and lack of levers to make progress have hamstrung negotiations.”
The offer tabled by the RDG falls short in many areas. For a start, it completely fails to cover controllers or managers, staff who make up a significant part of the rail workforce and who are represented by TSSA. Where the offer does apply, the financial value and lack of weighting to those on lower salaries means it is worth far less (4% this year), and job security falls ten months short of that offered by Network Rail.
“We pointed out the failings of the RDG offer in the meeting with the Rail Minister” said Luke Chester, TSSA Organising Director. “We explained that, while our union is not opposed to reform, modernisation and innovation in the rail industry, the strings attached to the offer were bad enough alone to cause us to reject it. Issues including ticket office closures, station job reforms, job losses, and effective derecognition of our union in many areas of the industry are simply unacceptable.”
The meeting, which took place at DfT headquarters in Westminster, was cordial and much detail was exchanged between TSSA and employers, with the Rail Minister saying he had “much to reflect on” from it.
“Warm words won’t pay the bills,” said Frank. “This dispute has been deliberately politicised by government and it’s our members and rail workers up and down the country who are suffering as a result of this needless intransigence.”