RMT and CWU suspend strikes over “intense negotiations”.

Unions suspended two threatened strikes on Friday, with Britain’s largest transport union canceling planned rail strikes and postal workers suspending planned action on wages and working conditions.

The RMT rail union said it would not pull out on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday as it entered “intense negotiations” with Network Rail and the railway companies. But it added that it could restart the action if they failed.

Separately, the Communication Workers’ Union said it had called off two 48-hour strikes due to start on November 24 and 30 while it began an “intense period of negotiations” with Royal Mail.

The planned strikes were part of a wave of industrial action in several sectors as unions try to ensure members’ wages keep pace with high inflation. Public sector unions have also fretted over government efforts to limit wage increases well below inflation levels and cut costs.

But Network Rail, the rail infrastructure operator, said the cancellation of the action came so close to the looming start of the strike that services would remain “extremely limited” on Saturday.

RMT members at Network Rail, which include signalers and maintenance workers, had planned to strike over job security and pay, while train operator employees intended to leave over pay and working conditions.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said the threat of strikes and previous strikes had led to rail companies “reasoning”.

“We have always wanted to reach a negotiated settlement and we will continue to push for that in this next phase of intensive talks,” he said.

Network Rail chief negotiator Tim Shoveller described the RMT’s decision as “welcome news” but said the “very late notification” meant it was impossible to resume canceled services that would otherwise have run on Saturday.

He added that services would remain “extremely limited” and that there would be “limited opportunities” to change the Monday timetable.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail operators, welcomed Network Rail’s cancellation of the campaign.

The smaller TSSA union of rail managers canceled its planned strikes earlier this week.

The RMT said it was still planning a strike on the London Underground for Thursday 10 November over pay and job security.

Lynch stressed that the national rail dispute is “alive” and that the union is moving forward with a vote to secure a mandate for further strikes if talks fail.

The lifting of the postal workers’ strike was announced in a Joint Statement published by the CWU and Royal Mail.

Both sides said they would hold talks on all aspects of pay and switching between November 7 and 15. Like the RMT, the CWU informed its members that it would continue to prepare for further strikes if necessary.

In the rail dispute, Network Rail has sought to reduce the number of rail maintenance workers by about 2,000 to about 8,000, despite insisting there will be no redundancies.

Train operators, meanwhile, have been looking for new Sunday work arrangements after many have struggled to run their scheduled services under the current voluntary shift system.

Both groups of employers have stated that higher salary offers for employees can only be granted if efficiency gains are achieved. Network Rail is offering a 4 per cent pay rise this year and in 2023 subject to the changes being agreed.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was “positive news” that the strikes had been called off, but added: “It is crucial that unions and employers continue their discussions and work together to find a solution.”

https://www.ft.com/content/8d740560-87ca-440a-b30e-548728ae3972 RMT and CWU suspend strikes over “intense negotiations”.

Adam Bradshaw

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