When will the national rail strikes end? RMT, ASLEF and TSSA disputes explained - why are unions striking?

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The RMT has rejected an offer put forward by the train companies, but will ask its members to vote on a deal put forward by Network Rail

A long-running industrial dispute involving rail workers is set to continue unless a deal can be made on pay, job security and working conditions.

The RMT trade union has rejected an offer from the body which represents train companies, which amounted to pay increases of 4% this year and next, with a number of conditions attached including the closure of all ticket offices.

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There have been many days of strike action in recent months as not only the RMT but other unions with workers in the rail sector, including Aslef, TSSA and Unite, have voted for industrial action in disputes of their own.

While pay is a major issue across all the disputes, with workers facing real-terms pay cuts due to the currently high rate of inflation, there are a number of other factors which need to be resolved before the industrial action is likely to end.

Which unions are striking, and why?

The RMT is arguably the main trade union in the dispute and has held the most national strike days across the rail network.

The union has called for pay increases but also guarantees on job security and working conditions which it says will help the railways run safely and more efficiently. It has rejected claims that it is opposed to modernisation, arguing that the majority of changes to working conditions being put forward are designed to reduce costs, in some cases through cutting jobs, rather than improve performance.

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The TSSA has also been involved in the national rail dispute, highlighting the same range of issues as the RMT, including but not limited to pay.

Aslef, which represents the majority of train drivers, is in dispute with a number of train operating companies, relating entirely to pay. The union says workers have experienced real-terms cuts to pay over the past three years and described offers put forward as ‘paltry’.

Unite workers in Network rail control rooms are also striking over pay, with the union saying they have not received a pay increase for three years.

The RMT rejected an offer put forward by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the train operating companies, which would have seen pay increase by 4% this year and next. The deal would also have involved significant changes to working practices, including job losses, Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains on all companies and the closure of all ticket offices.

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A spokesperson from the Rail Delivery Group, described the package put forward as “a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff”.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "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 for Transport who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.”

The union announced yesterday (5 December) that it will put a new offer from Network Rail to members in an electronic referendum, although it will recommend that they reject the offer. The ballot will close next Monday (12 December).

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TSSA will also put the most recent Network Rail offer to its members, but has rejected an offer from the Rail Delivery Group.

When are the next strike days?

The RMT rail workers’ union has announced strikes on the following days as part of the national dispute involving workers at Network Rail and 14 train operating companies, meaning disruption to the network will be spread across the country.

  • Tuesday and Wednesday, 13-14 December
  • Friday and Saturday, 16-17 December
  • 6pm Saturday 24 December until 6am Tuesday 27 December
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, 3-4 January
  • Friday and Saturday, 6-7 January

Unite workers employed by Network Rail in electric control rooms across the network will also be involved in national strike action across most of these dates, as well as in a localised dispute affecting travel in the East Midlands on 23 and 24 December.

Both the TSSA and Aslef are also in disputes with a number of train operating companies, though neither union currently has any national strike dates planned, after TSSA cancelled its 17 December strike.

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When will the strikes end?

Negotiations are ongoing in the national rail dispute, with some signs that progress is being made, such as the RMT’s decision to put Network Rail’s recent offer to members, and the TSSA’s decision to do the same.

However, there is clearly still some way to go before a deal which both sides are happy with can be agreed on. All the unions involved in the dispute currently have mandates from their members which will allow for them to call strike action for approximately another six months, unless agreements can be reached.

The rail dispute is now onto its third Secretary of State, Mark Harper, who took over from Anne-Marie Trevelyan last month. Grant Shapps, who was the Transport Secretary when the dispute began, was widely criticised for his handling of the issue and for sparking conflict between the government and trade unions.

There have been suggestions that first Trevelyan and now Harper have played a more productive role in the disputes, with the latter agreeing to lay out in clear terms the exact role of the government in the dispute. This is important as union leaders have said throughout the dispute that Network Rail and the train operating companies have been unable to make offers without government approval, while the government has generally said it cannot intervene.

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In the letter, sent last Monday (28 November), Harper said the government’s role is “to facilitate and support – not negotiate,” but that “better information sharing between the Rail Minister, trade unions and those leading the negotiations on behalf of the employers,” would speed up the negotiating process.

He wrote: “Negotiations will continue between trade unions and employers, but I can see scope for agreement.

“We will soon convene a further meeting to help advance, with the good faith of all parties, settlement discussions and progress in this dispute. I want to work with you and employers in good faith to help resolve these long-standing issues, and help the employers and you reach a resolution that is fair to all. I would hope this will lead to progress that will allow you to call off industrial action.”

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