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  • Cuts will hit thousands of safety-critical jobs and frontline workers
  • Ministers are more interested “picking a fight” and “threatening to do a P&O” on rail workers than finding a settlement, says TUC

The TUC is calling today (Monday) on the Westminster government to adopt a positive role in the rail dispute instead of “inflaming tensions” and threatening to revoke workers’ legal rights.

Rail workers in Wales have reached agreements with rail operators on pay and job protections. And in Scotland there is meaningful negotiation taking place. But the TUC says this opportunity has been blocked for other rail workers by ministers in Westminster, who insist on imposing cuts rather than negotiating a future for rail that benefits both rail travellers and staff.

And last week the Transport Minister Grant Shapps undermined a negotiated outcome by threatening to change the law so that employers can draft in agency workers in place of their workforce during industrial action – a proposal reminiscent of the action taken by P&O.

Rail workers have already had their pay frozen for the last two years, at a time when most other workers got nominal pay rises (although not always enough to keep up with the cost of living).

And many of the rail workers who will be taking industrial action are on low pay, so will be hit particularly hard by real terms pay losses worth thousands of pounds.

Rail workers on less than median income include:

Rail worker

Median salary

Real pay loss due to pay freeze (RPI)

Rail cleaners (outsourced)



Customer service assistants



Ticket office staff



Based on analysis by RMT

The TUC is calling on the government to stop inflaming the dispute by refusing to aid negotiations, insisting on imposing cuts, and threatening to revoke workers’ legal rights.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The government has the power to help end this dispute.

“But rather than working in good faith to find a negotiated settlement, ministers are inflaming tensions and trying to pitch worker against worker.

“Instead of threatening to do a P&O on these workers and rip up their rights, ministers should be getting people around the table to help agree a fair deal.”

Outlining why workers are taking action, Frances added:

“Nobody takes strike action lightly. But rail staff have been left with no other option.

“Many rail staff who will be hit hardest – such as caterers and cleaners – are on low and average earnings. It’s insulting to ask them to take yet another real-terms pay cut when rail companies took £500 million in profits during the pandemic.

“If these cuts go ahead thousands of safety-critical and frontline jobs will be lost, with train services at risk too. We need a better vison for the future of rail than commuters packed on unsafe trains like sardines.”

Editors note

- Network rail cuts: Under government pressure to cut spending, Network Rail plans to cut annual expenditure by £100 million, mainly through the loss of 2,500 rail maintenance jobs. RMT analysis of Network Rail data finds that this will lead to 670,000 fewer hours of maintenance work annually. Network Rail responsibilities include track maintenance - essential to avoiding accidents fatal like Hatfield, which was the result of the metal tracks fatiguing. Network Rail is also responsible for maintaining signals to ensure trains are on time and prevent collisions, for the electricity supply to the network, and for the safe upkeep of buildings including public spaces like the UK’s largest rail stations. 

- Train operator cuts: The Treasury has ordered the Department for Transport (DfT) to slash its annual budget by 10% as part of last year’s Spending Review. Following this, the DfT wrote to train operating companies telling them to plan for major cuts to operating costs. Unions are concerned that the DfT’s demand for cuts signifies intention to reduce public funding for rail services. With ticket revenue still not fully recovered from the pandemic, this could mean that many rail services are permanently stopped across all parts of the UK.

- Government threat to revoke workers’ legal rights: In a speech on Thursday 16 June on rail, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “If this dispute cannot be resolved, the government will look at a full range of options to stop the unions hurting the general public, including repealing the ban on transferable staff filling in for striking workers.”

This change to the law would allow employers – beyond just rail, and across the economy – to undermine industrial action by bringing in agency workers in place of regular staff if a workforce took industrial action.

It is similar to the approach taken by P&O which used agency staff to replace workers in anticipation that unions would oppose plans to cut staff wages.

TUC report on the future of rail: Last month (May 2022) the TUC published a report The future of rail funding in the UK. The report recommends:

  • Ministers should withdraw requirements for Network Rail to make cuts and provide sufficient funding to maintain safety, improve quality, and expand rail services. 
  • Network Rail should bring all outsourced services back in-house – directly employing workers to undertake vital renewals (such as replacing end of life tracks) could save more than £115m each year. 
  • Ministers should integrate all train services under a single public-owned operator, uniting tracks, rolling stock and train services, and recognising that the railways are an essential public service to be run for public benefit with profits reinvested in the service.

The full report can be found here:  

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