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Government sabotages potential rail deal

9 December 2022

RMT members on the picket line in Manchester in June, supported by members of the shopworkers union Usdaw. Photo Workers.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has slammed the government for scuppering a deal which could have prevented rail strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

It is now clear that at the last minute, the government insisted that the letter sent by the train operating companies to the rail unions setting out a potential deal included the imposition of an extension of driver-only operation of trains – in the full knowledge that the RMT could not accept it.

The extension of driver-only operation would result in thousands of redundancies among guards, and would be a less safe way of operating – but the government wants to sacrifice safety to save money. 


Trains without guards are a problem for many people with mobility difficulties, who would be unable to use the large number of stations that are either unstaffed, or not staffed for all of the day. And many women have voiced concerns about travelling in trains late at night with no guard on board.

Industry commentators have pointed out that it was unnecessary to raise the issue of driver-only operation as part of the dispute settlement, given that it will take many years to put the necessary infrastructure and other measures in place to allow more trains to operate without guards.

On Wednesday 7 December Lynch accused the government of working behind the scenes to scupper a negotiated settlement in pursuit of a political agenda that the travelling public do not want. “They’re seeking to impose Driver Only Operation that will make our railways less safe, secure and accessible and they seem prepared to sacrifice Christmas business to force it through,” he said.

He also criticised the fact that train operators are being indemnified against any financial losses from strike action, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.

Fresh strikes

RMT members in the train operating companies will be on strike 13/14 and 16/17 December, with their colleagues in the TSSA striking on 17 December and on other days, depending on the company. Unite’s engineering members in the train operating companies are also striking in the days before Christmas. Further strikes have been scheduled in the New Year.

These latest developments come alongside negotiations between Network Rail and the unions which have produced some positive movement, with the TSSA putting a much-improved offer to its members with a recommendation to accept. 

The offer was more problematic for many RMT members and was immediately rejected. As a result, the union called more strikes of its Network Rail members over Christmas to hit the major engineering work that normally takes place over the holiday period, when there are few or no trains running.