DfT gives train companies permission to make improved pay offer to end rail strikes

Transport Secretary gives rail operators new mandate to offer better deal as union talks set to resume

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Train operating companies have been given permission to offer unions a “better deal” in a bid to end the strikes which have crippled the UK’s railways.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the firms had been given a revised mandate for their negotiations ahead of another round of talks this week. He said he had made sure it included an improved offer on pay for railway workers but he continued to stress the need for modernisation of the network.

Harper told Sky News: “The train operating companies have got permission from me to make a new offer to rail unions. That is what they are going to be doing. That is what I was asked to do, that is my role in the process.

“But it is important now that we give some space for the employers, so that is the train operating companies and Network Rail, to continue having discussions with the RMT to try and reach a conclusion.”

The RMT, Aslef and TSSA unions are all in dispute with train operators over pay, working conditions and job security. They say that their members are being offered below-inflationary pay rises, facing the threat of redundancy and being asked to accept unsafe changes to working conditions. The RMT is also in an ongoing dispute with Network Rail over pay and conditions.

Representatives of the unions are due to resume talks with the rain operators as well as Network Rail in an effort to avoid any further strike action. Last week Aslef’s general secretary Mick Wheelan said a resolution was further away than ever. However, Tim Shoveller of Network Rail said he was optimistic of an agreement between it and the RMT, separate to any deal with the train operators.

Pressed about whether more money had been offered to the unions, Harper told the BBC: “I made sure after I met the trade union leaders that there was a better deal on the table for rail workers.

“But remember there is another side to it… which is also it is important that we get generational reform both on the maintenance side of the operation for Network Rail but also for the rail companies.

  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

“I want a proper seven-day railway where you don’t have to run a rail service by depending on the goodwill of people turning up on their days off.”

The Liberal Democrats called for Harper to set a timetable for resolving the strikes but he insisted: “I am not going to put an artificial timetable on it. I think as soon as you start putting artificial deadlines on things you tend to end up with a bad deal.”