Transport secretary welcomes “constructive” meeting on railway dispute

The transport secretary clarified his role is to “facilitate and support” an agreement in the long-running rail dispute rather than get involved in the negotiations.

Mark Harper wrote to the leader of the rail, shipping and transport (RMT) union following a meeting last week which the minister described as “constructive and positive”.

He wrote: “We both agree that the labor dispute over the railways has gone on too long.

“It’s bad for your members to lose their pay and overtime, bad for businesses that depend on trains to bring goods and customers, and bad for people across our country who depend on rail.

“Worse, the disruption drives more and more people off the railroads, some of whom will never return.

“We both want a long-term sustainable railway that offers both great service and rewarding jobs.

“Everyday union action makes everything more difficult to achieve.”

Transportation Secretary Mark Harper (Belinda Jiao/PA)

Harper said there is a way forward to meet everyone’s needs, adding, “By modernizing business practices, we can deliver the savings lower post-Covid passenger numbers demand, restore financial viability and not place an unfair burden on taxpayers.

“My role is to facilitate and support, not negotiate.

“Negotiations will continue between unions and employers, but I see room for agreement”.

He said better information sharing between the railway minister, trade unions and those leading negotiations on behalf of employers could speed up the process.

“We will be convening an additional meeting soon to help advance, in the good faith of all parties, discussions on the resolution and progress on this dispute.

“I want to work with you and good-faith employers to help resolve these long-standing issues and help employers and you reach a fair solution for all.

“I hope this leads to progress that allows you to reverse the industrial action.”

RMT members are expected to stage a new wave of strikes next month at Network Rail and 14 train operators which will cripple services.

Mr Harper also met with leaders of the Transport Workers’ Association and is expected to hold talks with officials from the Aslef train drivers union later this week.

Disputes over wages, jobs and conditions remain deadlocked despite months of talks and industrial action.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association has announced it will re-run strike ballots at three other train operating companies in its ongoing dispute over pay, work and conditions.

The union is voting on several hundred operational, station, control and management staff for strike action and short strike action at Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia and c2c, with results expected just before Christmas.

This follows the announcement of new polls in Network Rail and seven other rail operators.

Union legislation requires unions to vote every six months.

TSSA quashed the union action when a call for talks with the Rail Delivery Group was made earlier this month, saying that while progress has been made, no offers have yet been made.

Nadine Rae, TSSA’s organizational director, said: “The ballot is vital to keep pressure on employers for a deal.

“The incredible determination and strength of our members is what brought employers back to the negotiating table and we hope this fresh scrutiny will focus minds on reaching an agreement without the need for further action.

“But have no doubts, we are ready to call further strike action unless an offer is presented.

“The issues our members in the railways face have not changed – they deserve job security, protection of their terms and conditions and a pay rise.

“Nobody wants to go on strike before Christmas or start the new year in question, but with inflation skyrocketing and real take-home pay worth less, employers and government need to realize that our railroad workers they won’t back down. You have to make a decent offer.”

Talks with the RDG have been taking place for three weeks and further talks are scheduled for this week.

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