A legal consultation with the rail unions has been started by Network Rail to discuss maintenance reforms which include cutting about 1,900 jobs.
Network Rail believes it can achieve the target using a combination of voluntary severance, ‘natural wastage’ such as workers retiring, and making other jobs within the company available with retraining if necessary.
The reductions will reduce the maintenance workforce by about 20 per cent, to 8,000.
The RMT has claimed that such a reduction would endanger safety, but Network Rail has denied this, saying that modern methods are more efficient and less labour-intensive, thanks to technologies such as digital scanning of the tracks which can identify potential or actual faults more effectively than humans. The staffing of incidents would also change, reducing the number of vans needed to take workers to a site. Maintenance teams would also no longer be fixed in size, but allocated according to the needs of the job in hand.
The dispute with the RMT over the job reductions has already led to four national walkouts, and two more are set for 18 and 20 August. The situation has been worsened by separate action involving members of ASLEF and the TSSA. The next ASLEF stoppage will be tomorrow, when drivers at seven train operating companies are due to walk out.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: ‘The way people live and work has changed since the pandemic. On the railway, that means significantly fewer commuters and significantly less income. This year we’ll see a shortfall of around £2 billion compared with 2019.
‘It would be wrong to fund this deficit through increases in fares or taxes when we know that some of our working practices are fundamentally broken. That’s why we must make progress with modernising the way we carry out maintenance work and making the savings that are necessary for the future of our railway.
‘We haven't given up on finding a negotiated way forward. We have made a good pay offer and our door remains open, but we can't continue to circle the same ground day after day, week after week and not move forward. These reforms are too important, especially given we started these conversations 18 months ago. It is vital that we progress our modernisation plans to help put our railway on a sustainable financial footing for the future.’
The consultation started yesterday, but it does not prevent negotiations continuing.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has remained critical. He said last night: ‘Network Rail has issued a statement to staff today that there is an unconditional pay offer available. This is a deception on the staff and is entirely untrue. The offer they have made is entirely conditional on mass redundancies and changes to conditions and working practices that are not yet worked through and are subject to discussions with the trade unions.
‘In tandem to this deception on pay the company have started a formal consultation on 1,900 redundancies, have withdrawn their offer of no compulsory redundancies and will impose detrimental working practices.
‘Rather than deceiving the staff about what they are actually proposing, the company now needs to get back round the table with RMT and work to resolve the issues in the dispute including their proposals for change and the union’s demands for job security and a decent pay rise.’
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has consistently refused to join the negotiations. He said: ‘While we still encourage RMT to join talks and find a solution to this dispute that is fair for all, it's clear now that no deal was ever going to be good enough for the RMT, and they have left Network Rail no choice but to go ahead with these essential modernisations, with or without their support.’