Network Rail has deemed that the government’s proposal to replace striking staff with agency workers will have “limited if no effect in the short term.”
“I think we’ve been clear that [changing the legislation] is likely to have limited if no effect in the short-term and it’s likely to have a limited effect in the long-term,” said Tim Shoveller, chief negotiator at the government-owned rail operator.
Nevertheless, he said the legislation wasn’t pointless.
“If you have a number of rail companies, at the moment one company won’t lend its managers to allow them to operate a strike service.
“That will be possible under this legislation now. So I think there are benefits to it.”
Shoveller, alongside Rail Delivery Group’s chairman Steve Montgomery and bosses from unions RMT and Aslef appeared before the Parliament’s transport select committee earlier today.
According to the negotiator, there is no agency market that could fill in for many of the most safety critical roles.
The remarks come on the heels of MPs voting in favour of the measure on Monday night, with a majority of 87 votes. The House of Lords will also need to approve the proposal before it can become law.
Put forward following last month’s wave of industrial action, the measure received widespread criticism, including from recruitment agencies.
Late last month, 11 major staffing agencies told the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) the plans would bring the agency industry into “disrepute.”
The RMT and Aslef unions – which have always been against the measure – called the move “authoritarian nonsense.”
“I think it’s shocking that the answer to the cost-of-living crisis coming from the government is to criminalise dissent,” RMT’s senior assistant general secretary Eddie Dempsey told the committee. “I think it’s outrageous.”
After 40,000 of its members walked out last month in a three-day strike over job cuts and salaries, the RMT received yesterday an offer from Network Rail.
The union said it will formally consider the proposal this evening, even though it is conditional on workplace and modernisation reforms, such reducing maintenance jobs by 20 per cent.
A new report – commissioned by Network Rail and published today by consultancy firm Nichols – highlighted that working practices at the operator are less efficient compared with other organisations.
Under its terms and conditions, Network Rail is obliged to send a whole team – which is usually made up of more than two people – to do a maintenance job, regardless of the task’s size.
Moreover, when a job requires more than one specialism, several teams are dispatched at the same time, even though they work sequentially.
“This is grossly inefficient,” said Shoveller, who instead suggested creating smaller incident response teams.
The unions rebutted saying they were in favour of modernisation and technology, unless it is brought on a cliff edge, making people unemployed.