A key union leader has warned an end to rail strikes is further away than ever as train drivers stage the first in two days of strike action this week.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said that “bad faith” offers had endangered the negotiation process with employers and told reporters “I think we’re further away [from a resolution] than when we started”. His comments come as Aslef members and some RMT train drivers stage a 24-hour strike at 15 train companies in England on Wednesday 1 February, with a second strike planned for Friday 3 February.
His latest warning follows comments from RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, who said the latest offer made to his union would be ““very challenging” for members to accept. The RMT is currently considering a new offer on pay and conditions from the the train operators which includes a 9% pay rise but Lynch said concerns over working conditions were the main issue. The RMT has a mandate to strike until May if its members reject the latest deal from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
Whelan said the union was willing to continue its own negotiations with employers but when asked whether recent Cabinet changes had ushered in any fresh hope of an end to the dispute he was skeptical.
He said: “This isn’t a new Government – the same people have been in place for 12 years. I think we’re further away than when we started.
“I think the bad faith non-offer that was put out to the press, not run through negotiation teams, and that threatened us with compulsory redundancies, has exacerbated an already difficult situation.”
Speaking to GB News over the weekend, Lynch confirmed that the latest “very poor” offer from employers to the RMT was now being discussed in regional meetings around the country and members would decide whether to accept it in the coming weeks.
He said: “The offer that they’ve made is very challenging for our people.There are branch meetings happening all over the country and we’ll get reports back from those meetings from negotiating officers about what our members think. So that will happen over the next 10 days or so and then we’ll make a decision about what we want to do with the offer.”
The new offer from the RDG to the RMT includes a 9% pay increase over two years, additional provision for the lowest paid and extends a guarantee on no compulsory redundancies until the end of 2024. It also includes conditions on introducing new roles, more flexible working and formalising current voluntary Sunday working arrangements.
Lynch said pay was not the main issue for members. He said: “A lot of people find it really challenging to see the closure of every booking office in Britain. The clampdown on their terms and conditions is not going down well in the country amongst our members.
“Pay is not the issue that’s burning with our members. It’s their conditions and the way that they work.”
The latest offer to the RMT does not mention the extension of driver only operation on trains - a key sticking point between Aslef and the train companies.
The RMT, which is in dispute with 14 TOCs as well as infrastructure operator Network Rail, has a mandate for further strike action until May if its members reject the latest offer.
The TSSA’s current strike mandates - at 10 TOCs - expire in late January and the union has also not announced plans for any further strikes. It is, however, balloting members on more strike action in 2023 and taking action short of strikes at Greater Anglia until late February and at South Western Railway until early March.
TSSA organising director Luke Chester said that talks with the RDG were ongoing but, so far, no “final offer” that “covers all members” has been made to the union. He told the PA news agency: “Talks progressed around a range of issues as we know in the dispute from pay, job security, changes within the industry and terms and conditions of employment. We haven’t received a final offer from the company which covers all of our members involved in the dispute.
“We understand that an offer has been made to another union for a certain section of the grades. We’ve had sight of that offer but, as I’ve said, we need an offer that reflects the demands of the dispute for all our members concerned. We are not going to sell out one group of workers for another group of workers.”
The Aslef strikes in February will affect services on Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; GTR Great Northern Thameslink; London North Eastern Railway; Northern Trains; Southeastern; Southern/Gatwick Express; South Western Railway (depot drivers only); SWR Island Line; TransPennine Express; and West Midlands Trains.