Trade unions on Friday suspended two sets of looming strikes, with the UK’s biggest transport union calling off scheduled rail walkouts and postal workers pausing planned action over pay and conditions.
The RMT rail union said it would not walk out on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday as it entered “intensive negotiations” with Network Rail and train operating companies. But it added that it could restart action if they failed.
Separately, the Communication Workers’ Union said it had cancelled two 48-hour strikes due to start on November 24 and November 30 while it embarked on an “intensive period of negotiations” with Royal Mail.
The planned strikes had been part of a wave of industrial action in multiple industries as unions seek to ensure members’ pay keeps pace with high inflation. Public sector unions have also chafed at government efforts to limit pay rises to well below the level of inflation and to cut costs.
However, Network Rail, the rail infrastructure operator, said the action’s cancellation had come so close to the strike’s threatened start that services on Saturday would remain “extremely limited”.
RMT members at Network Rail, who include signallers and maintenance workers, had been planning to strike over job security and pay, while staff at train operators intended to walk out over pay and working conditions.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the threat of strike action and previous strikes had made rail employers “see sense”.
“We have always wanted to secure a negotiated settlement and that is what we will continue to push for in this next phase of intensive talks,” he said.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, described the RMT’s decision as “welcome news”, but said the “very late notice” meant it would be impossible to reinstate cancelled services that would otherwise have run on Saturday.
He added that services would remain “extremely limited” and that there would be “limited ability” to change the timetable for Monday.
The Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, echoed Network Rail’s welcome of the action’s cancellation.
The smaller TSSA union of rail managers cancelled its planned strikes earlier this week.
The RMT said it was continuing to plan a strike on London Underground over pay and job security on Thursday 10 November.
Lynch stressed that the national rail dispute remained “live” and that the union was pressing ahead with a ballot to seek a mandate to hold more walkouts if the talks failed.
The cancellation of the postal workers’ strike was announced in a joint statement issued by the CWU and Royal Mail.
Both sides said they would hold talks on all aspects of pay and change between November 7 and November 15. Like the RMT, the CWU told members it was continuing to prepare for further strikes if required.
In the rail dispute, Network Rail has been seeking to reduce the number of rail maintenance workers by about 2,000 to roughly 8,000, although it has insisted there will be no compulsory redundancies.
Train operators, meanwhile, have been seeking new agreements about Sunday working after many faced problems running their scheduled services under the present voluntary shift system.
Both employer groups have said increased pay offers to staff can be afforded only if efficiency gains are made. Network Rail is offering a pay increase of 4 per cent this year and in 2023 on condition that the changes are agreed.
Transport secretary Mark Harper said it was “positive news” that the strikes had been called off but added: “It’s crucial unions and employers continue their discussions and work together to reach a solution.”