Strike action looks set to disrupt the British rail network for much of the rest of the year after the RMT won a mandate to continue industrial action for a further six months.
The union on Thursday said it had secured the backing of 90 per cent of members who voted in ballots at 14 train companies to prolong strike action that began in the middle of last year. Average turnout was 70 per cent.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said the result “sends a clear message” to the industry. “They need to get around the table with RMT and negotiate in good faith for a better deal for rail workers,” he said.
The RMT’s existing mandate for industrial action runs out later this month and the union is set to stage its latest walkout at the 14 train companies on May 13, after rejecting a proposal for a 9 per cent pay rise over two years, which was tied to a major reform of work practices.
Separately, train drivers’ union Aslef is planning a series of 24-hour walkouts on May 12 and 31 and June 3, and is also preparing to reballot members on extending its mandate to the end of the year.
The fresh RMT mandate comes as relations between train companies and the union hit a new low after rail bosses hit back at union accusations executives had “torpedoed” a deal to end the strikes.
Lynch said rail companies had “reneged” on proposals agreed with union negotiators last week when he announced the rejection of the pay proposal.
But in a letter to Lynch, Steve Montgomery, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operators, accused the RMT boss of using “provocative and inflammatory language”.
The letter, sent on Wednesday and seen by the Financial Times, questioned Lynch’s version of events, and said the RDG had agreed the specific wording of the proposal with union leaders, including a redraft to take into account their concerns.
Montgomery wrote that Lynch’s comments did “not in any way reflect the discussions in the room at the time.” He urged the union to call off next week’s strike and instead to put the offer it had rejected to its members.
One industry executive said the RMT had “blown up the negotiations” as an excuse to launch new strikes. The RMT did not respond to a request for comment, but has consistently said it is seeking a resolution while protecting its members.
The RDG declined to comment on the letter but said the result of the ballot was “disappointing”, adding: “The RMT membership would be forgiven for wondering why they are only ever offered a vote to extend this dispute and a never vote to end it .”