Mick Lynch, the boss of the RMT, has said that a resolution to the rail dispute could come as soon next week.
Asked what it would take to call off next week’s walkouts, he told Sky News: “Resolutions to disputes are about compromises. We understand what the companies want and they understand what we need.
“So we need some compromise on some of the conditions they’re putting on the offer and we’ll need an improvement in the pay offer. That is achievable, in my view.”
He added: “I know that there are some very simple steps that the employers and ourselves could take together to get a solution to this. That means a common-sense approach — both sides get into a position where there’s some commonly held positions.
“And I think we could do that in the next period. And if that is done very quickly, we can consider the industrial action going forward.”
Lynch stressed that passengers should not anticipate too much disruption next week when workers at Network Rail strike again.
He said: “We know that the public will be upset and even angry about the disruption. Some of that anger should be put towards the government and the companies, we believe.
“But the disruption for people on the strike days that are actually happening at Christmas will be minimal. The railway shuts down on Christmas Eve in any case to do engineering works, so there aren’t scheduled trains on Christmas Day, nor on Boxing Day, and the railway curtails its activities early on Christmas Eve. That will be a little bit earlier than usual.
“But people have got time now to make plans. And I hope that they’re successful in that, and that we can progress these talks to maybe get some solutions in the next week or so.”
Lynch met last night with Huw Merriman, the rail minister, and executives from Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operating companies.
More than 40,000 members of the RMT have walked out this morning at the start of the second round of 48-hour strikes this week.
Just one in five services are expected to run today, with the network closing down entirely by 6.30pm. The last services between many major cities will leave mid-afternoon at the latest.
Lynch’s union has emerged as the outlier in the dispute after two smaller unions, Unite and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, representing 6,000 workers, voted to accept the pay offer from Network Rail.
All three unions have been presented with the same offer.
“The RMT really are the outlier now,” a source said. “It’s now clear that it’s mainly because of the National Executive Committee’s political agenda.”
The Network Rail offer amounts to a pay rise of at least a 9 per cent for this year and next — rising to at least 11 per cent for those on lower salaries. The company has also pledged that there will be no compulsory redundancies until January 31, 2025.
The TSSA and Network Rail remain locked in a separate dispute with the Rail Delivery Group which is negotiating on behalf of 14 rail companies in England and Wales.
Yesterday, Luke Chester, the TSSA organising director, said that the Network Rail offer was “significantly better than anything which has been proposed by the train operating companies and our fight goes on there, with members continuing to take industrial action.”
Bosses at Network Rail are especially keen to break the deadlock with the RMT so that signallers return to work. With drivers not striking regularly, if signallers return then future disruption will be significantly reduced.
An RMT ban on overtime starts on Sunday when services resume to normal, meaning passengers on some lines should expect major issues, and last-minute cancellations, next week as the great Christmas getaway gets underway.