London Daily

Focus on the big picture.

Evidence suggests government seeking conflict over rail strike - but a window has still opened for a deal

Evidence suggests government seeking conflict over rail strike - but a window has still opened for a deal

It is unclear whether ministers' refusal to attend a meeting with union chiefs this week is a final flexing of muscle before the serious business of negotiation - or the start of a new phase in a protracted dispute.
The Transport Select Committee heard from two sides in the national rail dispute, but the most important voice - the third rail - was not even in the room.

Mick Whelan, of drivers' unions Aslef, put the chances of resolution at zero (on a scale of one to 10) while Mick Lynch, of the RMT, said his members "would not go near" the offers currently on the table.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail's chief negotiator, put the prospects at seven, his optimism based on a conviction that RMT members who rejected his pay offer last month would change their minds if only they better understood it.

What is clear is that a resolution depends not on workers or track and train operators, but on ministers.

The power sits with the Department for Transport

COVID destroyed the railways' financial model, and changes to the way the network is structured mean all the revenue, risk, and the incentive to do a deal, now sit with the Department for Transport, and ultimately the Treasury.

As Mr Lynch pointed out, train operators receive fees from government to run services whether trains run or not, and get compensation on strike days.

"They made profits every day during the pandemic, they continue to make profits today… there's plenty of profit in the railways, it's just going to private companies."

Mr Whelan said it was a "Monty Python world" in which taxpayers are funding dividends for shareholders of private companies."

Proxies sent out without the power to change

The post-pandemic structure effectively makes Network Rail (responsible for track, signals and some stations) and the Rail Delivery Group (representing private train operating companies) passengers in this dispute, proxies sent out to negotiate without the power to change terms.

It's an argument powerfully prosecuted by Mick Lynch, leader of the RMT.

"There's a Stalinist obsession with centralised control in the Department of Transport," he told MPs.

"British Rail would never have tolerated this level of interference."

The central charge is that ministers deliberately derailed negotiations by insisting on terms they know the unions would never accept.

Exhibit A is the introduction of driver-only operation (DOO) as a condition of pay offers made to the RDG to the RMT.

Union opposition to DOO is long-established, on the grounds of passenger safety and the job losses that would flow from removing guards.

When the RMT - entirely predictably - rejected the RDG's offer before Christmas, Mr Lynch says ministers were happy for seasonal strikes to go ahead in order to try and turn public opinion against workers.

It is a cynical view, but one supported by the evidence.

Mark Harper, the third transport secretary in the last six months, has never denied his department had a role in introducing DOO, and the introduction of draconian anti-strike legislation this week by his predecessor Grant Shapps suggests an administration seeking conflict rather than common ground.

A chance for a deal

Yet for all the bad blood, a window of opportunity has opened.

Having held four days of industrial action in each of December and January, and 19 since last June, RMT members in particular have taken a huge financial hit. Their leadership may now give them a chance to recover and pay the bills by working uninterrupted for a month or two.

The RMT mandate for strike action lasts until May and they may yet use it again, but as long as they don't the employers, and the ministers in charge, could move towards a new offer.

If they want a deal they will need to give ground, recasting or removing the DOO clauses, and perhaps finding another percentage point of pay to make the RDG and Network Rail deals worth 10% over two years.

But whether this week was a final flexing of muscle before the serious business of negotiation, or the start of a new phase in a protracted dispute, will be decided not on the railways but in Whitehall.

Related Articles

London Daily
Britain’s Refugee Visa Rules Stranding Children in War Zones
UK Elections Predict ‘Electoral Extinction’ for PM Sunak’s Conservative Party
Italian Activist Ilaria Salis Returns Home After Election to European Parliament
Good morning!
England Faces Serbia in Euro Opener with Defensive Concerns
Dermatologist Warns Against Sunbed Usage
Fake Pro-Reform UK Social Accounts and Their Influence on Elections
UK Man Jailed for Non-Consensual Condom Removal
Reform UK Surpasses Conservatives in Historic Poll
US, Britain, Canada Accuse Russia of Interference in Moldova’s Election
Taylor Swift Fans Create Seismic Activity in Edinburgh
Sunak Aide Under Investigation for Election Bet
Labour Leader Starmer Focuses on Wealth Creation for Upcoming UK Elections
G7 to Use Frozen Russian Assets for $50 Billion Ukraine Aid
Anti-Israel Irish MEP Clare Daly LOST her seat in the EU Election
Johnson & Johnson Settles Talc Safety Claims for $700 Million
EU Urged to Welcome Skilled Russians to Weaken Putin
EU Elections Overview: Far-Right Gains and Major Political Shifts
Israel Rescues Four Hostages from Gaza
Emmanuel Macron Calls for Snap Election
Jordan Bardella: Young Far-Right Leader Poised for Future Political Influence in France
World's Oldest Privately Owned Book Auctioned for $3.8 Million
Animal Rights Activists Deface King Charles' Portrait in Protest
Dutch Military Intel Uncovers Extensive Chinese Cyber Espionage
Turkish Student Arrested for Using AI to Cheat in University Exam
Rise in Dengue and Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Europe Due to Climate Change
EU Elections Overview: Far-Right Gains and Major Political Shifts
Far-Right National Rally Dominates France's EU Vote
Macron Calls Snap Legislative Elections After Far-Right Victory
Far-Right Gains Significantly in EU Election
UK Job Market Shows Signs of Recovery
Orban’s Fidesz Party Wins Majority in Hungary’s EU Elections as New Challenger Emerges
Meloni's Far-Right Party Wins European Elections in Italy
Key Insights from the European Union Elections
European Union Elections and Rise of Far-Right Parties
England Loses Over 260,000 Social Rent Homes in a Decade
Campaigners Urge Government to Block Shein's FTSE Listing
First NHS AI-Run Physiotherapy Clinic Launches This Year
British TV Presenter Michael Mosley Found Dead on Greek Island
Ukrainian Forces Claims First Strike on Russia's Su-57 Fighter Jet
Macron Dissolves Parliament and Calls Snap Elections
Russia Adds Yulia Tymoshenko to Wanted List
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron Tricked by Hoax Caller Posing as Former Ukrainian President
Kate Middleton's Absence from Colonel's Review Due to Chemotherapy
UK Foreign Secretary Deceived by Prank Video Call
Sunak Criticised Over D-Day Exit in BBC Debate
Rishi Sunak Apologizes for Leaving D-Day Commemoration Early
UK Woman Sentenced After Causing Fatal Crash While Sending Selfies
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen Assaulted in Central Copenhagen
UN to Add Israel to Human Rights Blacklist