Christmas rail strikes to go ahead as RMT union rejects 8% pay rise offer from employers

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the offer does not meet criteria for securing a settlement on long-term job security or a decent pay rise

Rail strikes over the Christmas period are set to go ahead after the biggest rail workers union rejected an offer from train operators aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) offered workers an 8% pay rise and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies before April 2024. But the offer was rejected by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) within hour, with general secretary Mick Lynch branding it as “unacceptable” as it fails to meet the union’s criteria for long-term job security, pay, and protecting working conditions.

The RMT said: “The RDG is offering 4% in 2022 and 2023 which is conditional on RMT members accepting vast changes to working practices, huge job losses, Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.”

Mr Lynch added: “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long-term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions.

“The RDG and Department of Transport, who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members. If this plan was implemented, it would not only mean the loss of thousands of jobs but the use of unsafe practices such as DOO and would leave our railways chronically understaffed.”

The RMT union rejected an offer aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions (Photo: Getty Images)

Rail strikes in December and January to still go ahead

The RMT has demanded an urgent meeting with the RDG on Monday (5 December) morning in the hope of resolving the dispute. In a statement posted on the RMT website, Mr Lunch said the talks would aim to secure “a negotiated settlement on job security, working conditions and pay”.

But the ongoing dispute means that planned rail strikes in December and early January are currently still scheduled to go ahead, meaning commuters will face severe disruption over the festive period.

The first 48-hour RMT strike will be held on 13 and 14 December, followed by repeat action on 16 and 17 December. The close proximity of the strikes means services are likely to be badly disrupted on 15 December as well, although there is no official action planned. Unless a resolution is reached, RMT members will then stage two more 48-hour strikes in January.

The full list of RMT strike dates in December and January is as follows:

December:

  • Tuesday 13 December
  • Wednesday 14 December
  • Friday 16 December 
  • Saturday 17 December

Regional RMT strikes:

  • Sunday 11 and Monday 12 December – this will affect Avanti West Coast only

January 2023:

  • Tuesday 3 January
  • Wednesday 4 January
  • Friday 6 January
  • Saturday 7 January

Additionally, there will be an overtime ban across the railways from 18 December until 2 January, which will affect the number of services that can run. It means that commuters are likely to face a reduced rail service throughout the Christmas period.

‘Incredibly disappointing’

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the union’s announcement was “incredibly disappointing” and was unfair to the public, passengers and the rail workforce. He said: “Our railways need to modernise. There’s no place for outdated working practices that rely on voluntary overtime to run a reliable seven-day service.”

The RMT said Network Rail has also made a “complex” offer on pay and working practices which the union’s executive will consider on Monday. The union said the RDG was proposing that all workforce changes were accepted without reservation or industrial action, closure of all ticket offices and displacement of all retail staff, of a new multi-skilled station grades, a “mass job severance programme”, Driver-Only Operation of trains in all companies and on all passenger services, new arrangements for mandatory Sunday working and a review of all On-Train Catering services leading to cutbacks in provision and jobs.

Other proposals included flexible working contracts, mandatory adoption of new technology with no payment and new annual leave and sick pay arrangements, the union said.

The RDG said its offer will deliver “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements. A statement said a draft framework agreement, which employers tabled after weeks of intensive talks, gives the RMT the chance to call off its planned industrial action and put the offer to its membership.

A spokesperson from the RDG said: “This is a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff. If approved by the RMT, implementation could be fast-tracked to ensure staff go into Christmas secure in the knowledge that they will receive this enhanced pay award early in the New Year alongside a guarantee of job security until April 2024.

“With revenue stuck at 20% below pre-pandemic levels and many working practices unchanged in decades, taxpayers who have contributed £1,800 per household to keep the railway running in recent years, will balk at continuing to pump billions of pounds a year into an industry that desperately needs to move forward with long-overdue reforms and that alienates potential customers with sustained industrial action.

“We urge the RMT leadership to put this offer to its membership and remove the threat of a month of industrial action over Christmas that will upset the travel plans of millions and cause real hardship for businesses which depend on Christmas custom.

“Instead, we urge the RMT to move forward together with us and so we can give our people a pay rise and deliver an improved railway with a sustainable, long-term future for those who work on it.”