Liz Truss’s new Transport Secretary has begun peace talks with rail union chiefs in the hope of breaking the deadlock following months of industrial unrest.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is understood to have met with Mick Whelan, the general secretary of drivers union Aslef, last Wednesday. Sources said that she will hold talks with Manuel Cortes of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) later this month.
The intervention contrasts sharply with the approach by Grant Shapps, Ms Trevelyan’s predecessor, who refused to hold discussions with trade union bosses amid the most bitter industrial disputes on the railways for two decades.
Ms Trevelyan’s move was not enough to convince Aslef to call off a fresh round of industrial action during the Conservative Party Conference on Oct 1 and Oct 5.
A union source said that “nothing substantive” was covered in the meeting but it bodes well for better relations between the union and the Government in the weeks and months to come.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT), arguably the most militant of the trade union trio, on Monday also announced a strike on Oct 1.
The TSSA is also understood to have served notice on rail chiefs for strike action on Oct 1 and for “action short of a strike” – for example, a ban on overtime or working outside of contractual hours – on Oct 5.
Aside from impacting the Conservative Party Conference – which runs from Oct 2 to Oct 5, with many travelling on Oct 1 to the event in Birmingham – the strikes will also likely cause misery from those travelling to the capital to run the London Marathon on Oct 2.
Ms Trevelyan is understood to have written to RMT chief Mick Lynch to open a direct line of negotiation.
The RMT action will take place across 14 train operators and Network Rail – where a walkout by signal workers is likely to halt four in five train services.
Mr Lynch said: “Transport workers are joining a wave of strike action on Oct 1, sending a clear message to the government and employers that working people will not accept continued attacks on pay and working conditions at a time when big business profits are at an all-time high.
“The summer of solidarity we have seen will continue into the autumn and winter if employers and the government continue to refuse workers reasonable demands.
“We want a settlement to these disputes where our members and their families can get a square deal. And we will not rest until we get a satisfactory outcome.”
Mr Lynch’s counterpart at Aslef, Mick Whelan, said: “We would much rather not be in this position. We don’t want to go on strike – withdrawing your labour, although a fundamental human right, is always a last resort for this trade union – but the train companies have been determined to force our hand.
“They are telling train drivers to take a real-terms pay cut. With inflation now running at 12.3pc – and set, it is said, to go higher – these companies are saying that drivers should be prepared to work just as hard, for just as long, but for considerably less.
“The companies with whom we are in dispute have not offered us a penny. It is outrageous that they expect us to put up with a real-terms pay cut for a third year in a row. And that’s why we are going on strike. To persuade the companies to be sensible, to do the right thing, and come and negotiate properly with us. Not to run up and say: ‘Our hands are tied and the government will not allow us to offer you an increase.’”
The TSSA declined to comment.
All three unions suspended strike action planned for last week after a truce was called during a period of national mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Aslef notified rail bosses of their plans for strike action last week, prompting a backlash from rail chiefs.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said on Friday: “It is quite frankly incredible and utterly disrespectful that the Aslef leadership has chosen to announce strike action to train operators today. This is a time when the entire rail family is working hard to support the hundreds of thousands of people who wish to pay their respects to Her Majesty the Queen during this time of national mourning.”