Rail strike talks have yet to tackle pay, RMT’s Mick Lynch says

Hopes of breakthrough fade as MPs question union leader and Network Rail negotiator over talks progress

Talks to resolve the rail dispute have yet to start discussing pay, according to union leader Mick Lynch, dampening hopes of a breakthrough before more strikes are called.

The RMT’s general secretary said the union was still negotiating to avoid redundancies and cuts to maintenance work before they would tackle pay.

Speaking to MPs on the Commons transport select committee on Wednesday, Lynch said that train operators had not improved their offer in 18 months and had no incentive to increase pay to avoid strikes in a “corrupt system”.

He said that the only offer the RMT had received from Network Rail was effectively an 8% rise over three years rather than two, with inflation currently at about 10% – and something the industry “knew was not going to fly”.

He said industry proposals to change working conditions would “sink without trace” if the union had put them to a referendum of staff, as the industry and some MPs urged.

Earlier, Network Rail’s lead negotiator, Tim Shoveller, told the committee that he was “continually hopeful” for an agreement, and that there had been a “slight change” in talks held this week, with “conversations that we have not had for a while”.

On the first two Saturdays of last month, about 40,000 RMT members across Network Rail and 15 train operating companies held the latest in a series of strikes.

Lynch said train companies did not lose money during strikes, only the staff, as they were protected by the Department for Transport contracts. He said: “They suffer no loss and the DFT and Treasury pays them … That’s why we believe they are taking so long to come up with proposals.”

Grilled by MPs over whether the union was resisting change, Lynch said: “The railway does need fundamental change, but it’s not the one that the railway companies are seeking.

“We need a railway that runs in the interests of the people and the interests of the economy and the environment not in the interests of First Group and others,” he said, referring to the owners of Avanti West Coast.

“We need fundamental change – but we don’t need to attack the staff.”

While Lynch agreed that train companies profit margin was “quite low” at about 2%, he said the companies had no risk. “If there’s billions of pounds in circulation, that is quite a comfortable living. If I was getting 2% of all railway income, I’d be doing quite well. Normally businesses have to put capital at risk.

“I think it’s a cartel of people that are working with the government. No matter what their reputation is in this industry, the government will keep paying them.”

The DfT recently extended Avanti’s contract by six months despite months of cancellations and a much reduced timetable causing severe disruption for travellers between major cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Richard Scott, director of corporate affairs for Avanti’s owner, the West Coast Partnership, said it was “absolutely focused on making things better … to provide a robust, sustainable service”. He said that there would be a “significant stepping up” of the schedule from December.


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK ministers ‘losing argument’ over rail strikes, says Mick Lynch
RMT leader says public support for unions has ‘taken a dent’ but is still high despite travel disruption

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

06, Jan, 2023 @3:36 PM

Article image
Rail industry and RMT resume talks amid hopes of end to strikes
But drivers’ union Aslef set to reject initial pay offer from train operators, meaning resolution is some way off

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

16, Jan, 2023 @5:49 PM

Article image
Christmas rail strikes still on, says Mick Lynch after meeting minister
‘Until we get tangible outcome, action will be on,’ says RMT leader after talks with transport secretary

Gwyn Topham

24, Nov, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
Union threatens ‘biggest rail strike in modern UK history’
RMT to ballot more than 40,000 workers at Network Rail and train firms in dispute over jobs and pay

Jane Clinton and agency

20, Apr, 2022 @5:11 PM

Article image
Mick Lynch: government is deliberately ensuring rail strikes go ahead
RMT union leader says Department for Transport inserted bitterly opposed driver-only clause at last moment

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

08, Dec, 2022 @6:02 PM

Article image
Rail strikes: Mick Lynch says ministers should ‘stop play-acting’
Unions and industry leaders to meet ministers in attempt to break deadlock

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

09, Jan, 2023 @11:45 AM

Article image
Strike action to wipe out most train services across Great Britain on 1 October
Network Rail advises passengers not to travel as a third rail union confirmed it would join the strike

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

23, Sep, 2022 @1:22 PM

Article image
Rail passengers may face further strikes in November as Aslef ponders action
Train drivers’ union weighs up action later in month while disruption from RMT awaits travellers from Saturday

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

02, Nov, 2022 @3:25 PM

Article image
‘No real hope’ of avoiding biggest rail strike in 30 years, says Network Rail
Passengers across Great Britain told not to attempt to travel on 21, 23 and 25 June unless necessary

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

15, Jun, 2022 @2:57 PM

Article image
Rail strikes: showdown talks planned as country comes to a standstill
Unions, ministers and industry bosses to meet amid wide-scale disruption caused by only 20% of rail services running

Joe Middleton and Joanna Partridge

14, Dec, 2022 @6:07 PM