Rail passengers and freight customers across Great Britain face the prospect of six more months of strikes, after RMT members gave the UK’s biggest transport union a mandate to continue industrial action under way since June.
The RMT union on Wednesday said 91.6 per cent of those voting in the ballot of members at Network Rail, the rail infrastructure owner, and at 14 passenger train operating companies were in favour of authorising further industrial action. Average turnout was 70.2 per cent, it added.
The ballot was in progress when the RMT said on November 4 that it would suspend walkouts scheduled for November 5, 7 and 9 because it had entered “intensive negotiations” aimed at settling the dispute over pay, job security and working conditions. Neither side has commented on progress in those talks.
The union has not announced any new strike dates. Extension of the authorisation to strike does not oblige the union to stage new walkouts.
RMT members at Network Rail have staged a series of strikes over an offer of a 4 per cent annual pay rise for 2022 and 2023 and over the company’s plans to introduce reformed working arrangements for maintenance staff. The plans would result in 2,000 voluntary redundancies.
Union members at the train operating companies are unhappy over a 2 per cent annual pay offer and efforts to make Sunday working compulsory.
Mick Lynch, the RMT’s general secretary, said the ballot was a “massive endorsement” of the union’s strategy in the disputes.
“The national executive committee will now look at these fantastic results and negotiations will continue with Network Rail and the train operating companies,” he said.
The latest ballot results dashed expectations on the employers’ side that union members might be growing disillusioned with the continued strike action. The margin in favour of action was higher than the 89 per cent who supported action in an initial ballot in May.
Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said passengers would be “dismayed” by the ballot’s outcome.
“We recognise the strength of feeling among our people and call on the RMT leadership to continue to work with us to agree the vital reforms necessary to both afford a fair pay deal and secure a sustainable future for the railway,” he said.
The RMT disputes on the national rail system are among a series of unresolved issues that have brought severe disruption to the UK’s rail systems this year. The union is involved in a separate dispute with London Underground over pay and job security that has resulted in a series of one-day walkouts, most recently on November 10.
Aslef, the train drivers’ union, is to strike at 12 train operators on November 26. Aslef members at LNER, the long-distance train operator on the London to Edinburgh east coast mainline, have said they will refuse to undertake voluntary overtime from November 27.