Staff at 13 franchised train operators and Network Rail have voted for strike action and action short of strikes in a ballot by the RMT union over pay and possible job cuts. Open access and freight operators were not balloted by the union.
71% of those balloted took part in the vote, with 89% voting for strike action and 11% against. The union says it wants ‘urgent talks’ with NR and the train operators.
Of workers balloted, only those of Govia Thameslink voted for action short of strikes. The RMT claims NR plans to cut ‘at least 2,500 safety critical maintenance jobs’ as part of efficiency measures.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Today's overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union's approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.
‘Our National Executive Committee will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT.’
The ballot comes despite the formation of the Rail Recovery Group in summer 2021 which signed a framework agreement covering employment security measures. The four main rail unions – Aslef, the RMT, TSSA and Unite – are all part of this group.
In response to the ballot result, NR Chief Executive Andrew Haines said the RMT had ‘jumped the gun’, adding that the infrastructure manager is working on a pay increase which ‘taxpayers can afford’.
He added: ‘Travel habits have changed forever and the railway has to change as well to adapt to this new reality. We believe that by modernising – creating safer jobs for our people and operating the railway more efficiently – we can build a sustainable future with a railway that delivers for passengers and taxpayers.
‘Any industrial action now would be disastrous for our industry’s recovery and would hugely impact vital supply and freight chains. It would also serve to undermine our collective ability to afford the pay increases we want to make.’
NR claims strikes would cost it around £30 million per day, which it argues would ‘undermine’ its ability to afford pay increases.
Responding for train operators, the Rail Delivery Group pointed out that the industry had received more than £16 billion in taxpayers’ money to keep it running during the pandemic. Chair Steve Montgomery said it was ‘not fair to ask taxpayers to continue to shoulder the burden when there are other vital services that need public support.’
He added that the rail industry must change its ways of working and improve productivity to ‘help pay our own way’.
Voting for strike action and action short of strike:
• Avanti West Coast
• East Midlands Railway
• Greater Anglia
• Great Western Railway
• Network Rail
• South Western Railway
• TransPennine Express
• West Midlands Trains
Voting for action short of strike:
• Govia Thameslink Railway including Gatwick Express