Rail union leaders were close to calling off Wednesday’s strikes after being offered a sweetened pay deal late last week, The Daily Telegraph revealed.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) said it was “a breakthrough” after Network Rail committed to a “4+4” deal offering a 4pc pay rise this year and next. “Hopeful”.
But the union was accused of “marching the rail chiefs up the hill and down again” on Tuesday night after negotiators were rejected by the RMT’s national executive.
This happened after Grant Schepps stopped the rail unions from repeatedly walking out under the “one ballot, one strike” rule. It is part of a package of 16 proposed measures drawn up by the Transport Secretary and is expected to be supported by Rishi Sink and Liz Truss.
The change could prevent strikes like Wednesday’s because unions would not be able to pursue such action without re-voting their members. Wednesday’s national strike by the RMT follows a three-day strike at the end of June.
In an exclusive article for OlxPraca, Mr Shapps said: “Currently, a single ballot gives unions a six-month window in which to strike, with no further reference to membership during that time. In the future Each, continuous strike action must be justified by its own ballot.
RMT union negotiator Eddie Dempsey was told by industry sources that he believed “we can see a way through this and are prepared to postpone the strikes”. But the proposals were rejected by the RMT’s ruling executive after being put forward by Mr Dempsey.
“They drove us up the hill and down again,” a source added. “It looks like the RMT executive is intent on reviving the trade union movement.”
However, the union insisted it was Network Rail that had changed its stance. An RMT spokesman said: “We were optimistic about making enough progress to suspend strike action.
“However this evaporated when Network Rail hardened its position by attacking our members’ working conditions and even threatened to put compulsory redundancies back on the table.”
With just one in five trains running on Wednesdays and a reduced “Sunday service” on Thursdays, commuters will be forced to stay at home while UK holidaymakers’ plans are ruined.
The RMT industrial action is against Network Rail, the state-backed owner of the tracks and stations, as well as 14 train operators. Further action on the railways is scheduled on August 18 and August 20. Strikes will return on Saturday as drivers’ union SLIF walks out of eight train operators.
On Tuesday the RMT announced industrial action on the London Underground on August 19, bringing public transport to a standstill in the capital for almost three days.
Accusing the unions of putting the future of the railway at risk with their “reckless perpetual strike”, Mr Scheps also hinted that the dual strike strategy by the RMT and Aslef this week was also may be declared illegal.
Such tactics lead to “more and more disruptive explosions for less union money,” he said.
“Therefore, I am considering banning strikes by different unions at the same workplace within a fixed period,” he added.
Mr. Scheps also proposed a rule requiring ballot papers to clearly state the specific reason for the strike so that a union could not present other demands or reasons. Limit of six pickets at points on critical national infrastructure; and a 60-day cooling-off period after a strike.
It comes on top of proposals for at least 50 per cent of those voting for industrial action, up from 40 per cent, and to increase the minimum notice period from two to four weeks.
“The default strategy adopted by the RMT and others in industrial relations – their extraordinary, habitual, brutal recourse to the strike weapon – must end. We as a government must face up to this threat and the union K barons should think twice before running it,” said Mr Shepps.
However, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned on Tuesday that their campaign of strikes could continue until next summer unless rail bosses back down.