Talks to avert further rail strikes to resume but passengers still face days more disruption

Talks between unions and rail bosses that have already come close to averting strikes will resume on Wednesday but passengers will continue to face disruption until at least Friday.

Network Rail boss Andrew Haines said negotiations with the RMT union were “within a gnat’s whisker” of a deal on Monday night but fell short, crippling Britain’s railways on Tuesday.

Talks on averting further strikes on Thursday and Saturday will resume at 10am but even if a deal is reached passengers face days more disruption, a rail industry source told i.

“To make any substantial difference to Thursday’s timetable, to be honest we are already past that point,” they said.

i understands the landing zone for a deal depends on the balance between job cuts and better pay that the RMT is willing to accept.

Network Rail initially offered a 2 per cent pay rise with no strings attached, with an extra 1 per cent based on productivity.

But it wants to get rid of “1960s and 1970s working practices” in the maintenance sector and to introduce new technologies to save “hundreds of millions of pounds”, the source said.

RMT were told the pay offer could be improved, with the amount depending on how much of Network Rail’s plans to reform working practices the union was willing to accept.

“The negotiations were around how far the RMT were willing to come, which would release how much cash that could then translate into an improved offer,” the source said.

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One of the reforms Network Rail wants to make is to scrap rules which mean individuals cannot be sent out on jobs, with an entire team instead having to be rostered.

The source said this can result in an entire team of electriciians being sent to fix a broken fuse in a control box.

Similarly, individuals from different departments cannot be brought together in one team to respond to a callout. It can lead to multiple teams travelling to one incident in separate vans, rather than individuals from each of those teams travelling together.

“There are just these bizarre working practices that date back over 50 years, the source said.

Network Rail acknowledges its plans would result in 1,800 job cuts in a workforce of 10,000, but believe it can be met by older staff who are seeking voluntary redundancy, and through retraining and redeployment.

The RMT was asked to comment on the talks.

The union’s general secretary Mick Lynch said of Tuesday’s strike: “Today’s turnout at picket lines has been fantastic and exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise.

“Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in pursuit of a settlement to this dispute.

“RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big-business profits and government policy

“Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “These are desperately needed reforms that modernise the railway and put it on a sustainable footing for passengers and taxpayers.

“Unions have shut down big parts of the rail network, hitting local businesses and unfairly cutting people off from hospitals, schools and work.

“However, early data shows that unlike in the past, many people now have the opportunity to work from home, so we haven’t even a rush to the roads, as traffic has instead gone online, which means the unions aren’t having the overall impact they might have hoped.”

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