“The proof will be in the pudding” was the feeling from TSSA leaders following a meeting with the Transport Secretary where a positive and frank exchange was had.
TSSA met with Mark Harper, Transport Secretary, and Rail Minister Huw Merriman today (Thursday) to discuss the current state of play in rail dispute negotiations and how a solution might be reached.
Earlier that morning, during a debate in parliament, the Transport Secretary had pledged to “facilitate” between industry and unions. He repeated that pledge during the meeting with TSSA, which was held at the Department for Transport’s headquarters in Westminster.
“It was a positive meeting” said TSSA Interim General Secretary Frank Ward. “The Transport Secretary now understands our position and said some welcome things, but as ever the proof will be in what actions now come.”
TSSA was invited in for the high-level meeting as the rail dispute enters a critical point, with intensive talks nearing the end of three weeks – a period during which TSSA has suspending industrial action. Despite much effort and goodwill from the TSSA negotiating teams, no offers have been put forwards and time is running out on current strike mandates.
“I have no interest in this dispute carrying on” Mr Harper told TSSA, emphasising that neither he nor his department has blocked any offer or deal. “I want this dispute resolved and the strikes to end” he said.
Mr Harper said he “respects the role of trade unions” but emphasised that government is looking for a “fair balance for the taxpayer and passengers”, with a “sustainable railway” the ultimate aim. While being clear that there was no more money available from government, the Secretary of State emphasised he felt the sides “are not a million miles apart” and said that the ability to agree modernisation was key to generating savings that could be used for increasing pay.
“We were able to put the Secretary of State straight on several points in today’s meeting” commented Frank Ward after the meeting. “We were crystal clear that instead of threatening unions with legislation to force us to put offers to members, what would be welcome is actually having an offer in the first place – that’s one of the key hold ups and frustrations in this dispute right now. Our negotiating teams have clearly felt that employers are waiting for authority from government to make offers and we relayed that direct to the Secretary of State today, I just hope he’s taken it on board.”
Mr Harper undertook to write to TSSA outlining the role of government and how it might help to progress matters in the dispute and current negotiations.
TSSA negotiating teams remain in talks this week, including today, but no offer has yet been tabled in writing.