Rail chief threatens to overtake union head in UK strike

A senior executive in Britain’s rail industry has threatened to cancel the striking RMT union and contact staff directly to help push for reforms if talks do not progress to avoid more industrial action.

About 40,000 RMT members network railwayThe 13 train operators with infrastructure will stop work on Thursday, after a shutdown on Tuesday, during which only about 20% of services were running. They will also strike on Saturday.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines told the FT that if the RMT underwent a comprehensive modernisation, particularly in maintenance jobs, it would be “a really sure way to get out of this situation”. “But they don’t even talk about it,” he added.

He threatened a company referendum on the proposed maintenance changes, which he acknowledged would be an escalation and a last resort.

“If RMT doesn’t discuss maintaining productivity with us, they should allow us to contact their members directly and exclude them.

“We don’t want to do this because it would lead to further escalation, but if we can’t stop this ongoing delay, some concessions have to be made,” he said.

Giving employees the opportunity to have a voice on proposed changes to work practices may put pressure on RMT leadership to back off and embrace the changes.

While an employee referendum on the state-owned rail network would not affect train operators, the actions of network workers were particularly damaging because they operate the infrastructure that keeps trains running.

Eddie Dempsey, a senior director at RMT, said he was “not too concerned” about the prospect of employee voting: “I don’t think it would do them any good.” He said maintenance crews were already flexible and he didn’t expect them to support the company’s proposal.

But RMT union chief Mick Lynch earlier said he would not negotiate when the threat of forced layoffs loomed over his members.He has previously said he could accept some modernisation if agreed union.

Network Rail sent a letter to RMT on Monday saying it would continue to cut 1,800 jobs, “the vast majority” of which were voluntary, and would change the way work was done.

Lynch accused the government and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of refusing to let the rail network back down from a “threat”.

“Grant Shapps undermined these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw letters threatening layoffs . . . our members,” Lynch said.

In a statement, Shapps responded: “This is a complete lie from RMT and its secretary general. I have absolutely nothing to do with a letter from employer Network Rail to RMT or any request to withdraw it.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to “go around” the negotiating table and “get the train moving” in the Prime Minister’s question in the House of Commons.

But Johnson said the train companies should negotiate with RMT, adding that Starmer “doesn’t even have the courage” to speak out against the strike.

Contrary to the firm line of wage incentives, ministers confirmed this week that the basic state pension in April next year will rise with inflation in September, which could be close to 10%.

the government is facing Salary requirements in the public sector Elsewhere: Britain’s main teaching unions are also threatening strike action this autumn unless they get a 12% increase.

In addition to not imposing layoffs, RMT leadership has pushed for a 7% to 8% pay rise to make up for the highest inflation rate in 40 years, which hit 9.1% in May.

The TSSA union, which represents clerks, supervisors and station workers, said on Wednesday its members of Merseyrail had voted in separate negotiations to accept the 7.1 per cent pay deal, calling it a “sensible outcome of a reasonable offer”.

TSSA secretary-general Manuel Cortes said the agreement showed unions “will in no way hinder the search for avoidance” unhappy summer on the railway”.

Merseyrail is controlled by the Labour-led Liverpool City Regional Coalition Authority and is not part of the national franchise system.

Many avoided Tuesday’s disruption by working from home. Office services provider Freespace said average office occupancy in London had dropped sharply to just 9% from 42% a week earlier.

Average office occupancy in the UK on Wednesday was higher at 22%, but this was almost half the level of the previous week.

Additional reporting by Jim Picard

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