A “spring of discontent” is brewing for the railways as union and senior railway officials prepare for massive industrial action in response to the ban on government emergency funds that cut jobs, freeze salaries and shut down.
Negotiations between industry and unions to discuss the £ 1.5bn- bn 2bn savings claimed by the Treasury were held last year on the basis of no mandatory redundancy and no walkout. The deal expires at the end of 2021 – leaving unions with the warning to strike immediately if any jobs are cut.
That result now seems inevitable, with a formal proposal for the cut expected in the coming weeks, including significant significant job losses in the maintenance role to save Network Rail £ 100m annually. Train operators will try to reduce staff costs for non-contact ticketing. Mick Lynch, leader of RMT, the largest union in the railways, said: “It is our belief that they want to close virtually every ticket office on the main line rail.”
The roots of the controversy lie in the coronavirus epidemic, which has boosted the finances of rail companies – perhaps even more so than the London Underground, where two 24-hour strikes earlier this month shut down the pipeline. Passenger numbers have fluctuated similarly on both networks, ranging from lonely at the beginning of the epidemic to 60 to 70% of the pre-coveted level now.
Yet other changes have been made in the last two years, meaning some are questioning how much power Stops still has to disrupt national rail and London transport.
Tim Schweiler, Regional Director of Network Rail, said: “While passenger numbers are beginning to recover, we know that travel habits and passenger demand have changed and that the industry needs to change. We cannot rely on official handouts. We are discussing ideas with our unions on how we can modernize to create better and safer jobs for our people. ”
The unions argue that their members, who operated transport services during the epidemic, should not raise the tab on the national railways or in the capital. There are likely to be more RMT walkouts in London, where pensions as well as job cuts are in the frame, after Mayor Sadiq Khan was told to find about খরচ 500m in annual cost savings to cover emergency state funding to get about bn 5bn of shrinking pipe rental income.
But does the rail strike still work for the union? It would have been unbearable for many businesses before Covid to suspend London for most of the work week; With tube trains usually now only two-thirds full, the effect was muted this month. Many commuters can avoid disruption by staying at home for work, leaving the rest of the city’s trains, buses and roads crowded, but much more effective than on strike days.
A similar picture emerges on the national railways this spring: some important commuter railways, such as the Southwestern, which once traveled the city daily with annual season ticket holders, without losing their lucrative regular clients. A senior industry source said of the strike option: “They had a spade. Now it’s a five heart. “
Others disagree. Mick Huilan, Aslef, general secretary of the Train Drivers Union, claims the threat of a strike could be “stronger in the confusing new world created by Grant Shaps.” Under the Transport Secretary’s reform in franchising, most of the railways are under central control through new contracts where all freight revenue goes to the government without risking operators.
Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics and a local government expert, argues that despite the reduction in the number of passengers affected by the rail strike, “the government, in a curious way, has re-empowered them with income guarantees.” The union said they could use their muscles normally because the government and Khan still wanted to keep the tube and the national railway running. “
Although smaller than RMT, Driver Union has more power to stop trains: In the 2016-17 Southern Conflict, rail managers tried to replace the striking RMT conductor, but nothing happened within days of Aslef going on strike. .
At the moment, it is relatively relaxed about the prospects of its members: train companies lack drivers and depend on overtime – and about 2,000 drivers, usually middle-aged men, are retiring in the next five years. However, Whelan said: “There are some issues that will lead to the right, national action. Let’s remember that many of our members, who put themselves at risk for two years during the epidemic, did not get their salaries increased. It cannot continue.”
The last year of an inflation-linked pay deal has raised tube pay in London but National Rail, Lynch says the two-year-old fridge has “effectively cut a 10% so far and the clock ticks”. A total of 1,450 managers have left Network Rail, saving £ 100m so far through voluntary redundancy. The TSSA union said any mandatory cuts would immediately affect the industrial system.
Rail Delivery Group estimates that রাজ 14bn of rental revenue has been lost to the industry since the epidemic began, with another bn 6bn deficit over the next three years. A spokesman said it was “an unprecedented financial shock”, adding: “The whole industry needs to respond to the challenges we face with changing patterns and accelerating the transfer of more passengers to digital technology.”
Ticket offices are under threat of closure – a politically difficult prospect, not just because of union opposition. “People see that when you do arithmetic there is no argument,” said a senior member of a rail operating group. “But they don’t want to shut themselves off.”
At least for RMT, there are no signs of strike reduction. The union is coordinating actions ranging from the Night Tube dispute to the launch of a 24-hour weekend service to Transport for London, a walkout by Transpenine Express conductors and the shutdown of Churchill’s outsourced train cleaners in the southeast.
“We do not like strikes. Our members lose money, we take a lot of heat and this is not a great position, “Lynch said. However, he added:” The reason people see us is because our unions are not afraid. Power has been lost. “
For Lynch, this month’s walkout was clear: “Where unions don’t fight, people end up with minimum wages, no pensions, no rights. I think it will make a difference because it shows people that we are serious. “