A second day of strike action is under way after talks to avert the stoppage collapsed in rancour on Wednesday night.
Millions of passengers face disruption to train services across Great Britain on Thursday as 40,000 RMT members working for Network Rail and 13 train operating companies stage their second strike in a week.
Just one in five trains will run on Thursday, with services only running between 7.30am and 6.30pm. Trains will mostly be restricted to main lines, with about half of the network closed. Passengers are being asked to travel only if necessary.
The government plans to change the law – repealing what it describes as “burdensome” legal restrictions – to enable businesses to supply temporary agency workers to cover for staff on strike during industrial action. Network Rail welcomed the move but Labour and trade unions condemned it as a “recipe for disaster”.
Last night, the head of the RMT union, Mick Lynch, hit out at the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for “wrecking negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members” in the dispute over pay, working conditions and proposed “modernisation” plans. Shapps said the RMT claim was “a total lie”. Network Rail said the union had walked away from talks.
Separately, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association announced that its members at Merseyrail had accepted a 7.1% pay offer.
Tim Shoveller, the managing director of the north west and central region at Network Rail, said a similar deal with the RMT was very unlikely. “We currently have an offer that totals 3% on the table and we’re keen to improve that, but that’s subject to affordability,” he told BBC radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.
He said the difference between the 3% and the 7.1% pay offers was £65m every year of cost savings that the industry would have to find. But he added: “We can see a way of funding a pay deal, not at those sort of proportions, but still an overall good package recognising that the prime thing the unions are asking for is a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.”
Also speaking on Radio 4, Eddie Dempsey, the RMT assistant general secretary, said he would be talking to Shoveller on Thursday, and that the Network Rail letter would not necessarily stop the union from negotiating.
Nevertheless, he said: “What we can’t understand is how people from the industry can go onto the media and say ‘We have no intention of making people compulsorily redundant’ but issue us a letter starting the legal process for consultation on redundancy and refuse to give us a no-compulsory redundancy guarantee which is the number one demand we have in this dispute.”
Dempsey described the Merseyrail 7.1% pay deal as “significant” and said other transport workers, at London Underground and Crossrail, had managed to get inflation-busting pay deals.
“All of the companies we are in dispute with are controlled by the Department for Transport,” he said. “We figure there is an affordability issue in the railway and that comes down to profiteering. It can’t be the case that we’re seeing billions taken out of our railway industry in the form of private profits right through the health emergency, and be told at the same time we can’t afford to pay the workers a pay rise, some of whom are in the third year of a pay freeze. That’s intolerable to us.”
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia are striking on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.