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The RMT union has said members will vote in a referendum over the next 12 days on a revised pay offer from Network Rail, in a move that could spell the end to the most damaging rail strikes.
On Tuesday night the union called off a 24-hour strike at Network Rail planned for next Thursday, 16 March, which would have included thousands of signallers, critical for allowing the railway to run.
Four 24-hour strikes by RMT members at 14 train operators are still scheduled over the coming weeks, but in most parts of Britain the action will have far less impact than a Network Rail strike.
The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Network Rail have made a new and improved offer, and now our members will decide whether to accept it. We will continue our campaign for a negotiated settlement on all aspects of the railway dispute.”
Network Rail bosses have been confident that a referendum on the new offer will swing in favour of acceptance, after a substantial minority voted to accept a similar deal in a ballot before Christmas.
The union said it would not make a recommendation, after last time asking members to reject the offer. Voting in the referendum will start on Thursday 9 March, and run until midday on 20 March.
Although the overall headline pay increase, of 5% backdated to January 2022 and 4% from January 2023, has not changed, some revisions and more work explaining the pros and cons of new contracts was expected to bring sections of the workforce on board.
The RMT said the offer would raise overall earnings by 15%-plus for more than half the members, at the lower end of the pay scale, including increased back pay.
The deal is likely to still prove divisive, with many staff apparently angry at the lack of progress on pay, while others appear unwilling to continue strikes.
Train operators have urged the union to put their offer to its members. A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson welcomed the news of the RMT referendum, but added: “Train operating staff will rightly be asking why their union continues to deny them the opportunity to have their say on our equivalent offer.
“Instead of inflicting more lost pay on its members and disruption to our passengers, we are calling on the union to call off their strikes and meet us for urgent talks to resolve this dispute.”
RMT members at train companies are due to go on strike on 16, 18 and 30 March and on 1 April.
The union said that the Rail Delivery Group has invited it to more talks, on condition that the planned strikes were suspended. It has declined to call them off but said it was willing to attend any meetings towards resolving the dispute through an improved offer.