THE RMT is set to stage its 43rd strike on Northern tomorrow (Saturday) as the train staffing dispute continues.
The walkout will come at the end of a turbulent week in which transport secretary Chris Grayling clashed with the rail unions by blaming them for contributing to the New Year fares increases, which were 3.2 per cent for regulated fares and 3.1 per cent when all fares were taken into account.
Mr Grayling had previously said that the formula for future rail fare increases could be based on the Consumer Prices Index, which is lower than the currently used Retail Prices Index, if unions were willing to have their future wage increases also based on the CPI. However, RMT general secretary Mick Cash rejected the proposal, saying that ‘if he seriously thinks that our members are going to take the hit to their pay for his incompetence and the greed of the train companies he has got another coming’.
This argument came to the fore two days ago when Mr Grayling accused the rail unions of boosting the New Year increases, telling the BBC that ‘the reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national rail strikes if they don't get them – higher pay rises than anybody else’.
The RMT described this claim as ‘scandalous’.
The union has also protested about compensation payments made to Arriva Rail North by the Department for Transport because of the revenue lost through industrial disputes. Such compensation is a usual feature of franchise contracts.
The union claimed that ARN had received an additional £31 million since the franchise began in April 2016, and that the company’s profits over the same period had been £33.7 million.
Mick Cash said: ‘RMT Northern members will be striking again tomorrow in the long-running fight to put public safety before private profit as the company jack up their fares and refuse to lift the axe from above the heads of their safety critical guards.
‘RMT continues to make every effort to get serious and meaningful talks going with Northern but the company would prefer to milk the fare increase for every penny they can while ignoring the safety concerns of their staff and the public alike.’
Northern has called on the RMT to ‘suspend its damaging strike action’ and accept an independent ACAS inquiry.
The operator’s managing director David Brown said: ‘More than 50 per cent of all rail journeys are made on driver-controlled trains and recently the Department for Transport and Transport for the North publicly confirmed that a second person – in addition to the driver – would be retained on Northern services.
‘This second person will provide customer service, including meeting customer needs on accessibility, safety, security, ticketing and information. Therefore, there is no reason for the RMT to continue its disruptive and economically damaging strikes.’
Northern also warned that, as on previous strike days, there would be very few trains on its network after about 17.00 tomorrow.