UK: Network Rails Begins Legal Consultation with Trade Unions Regarding Maintenance Reforms

Network Rail has formally begun the legal consultation process with the necessary trade unions regarding its planned maintenance reforms.

A formal meeting took place on 28 July for the railway network infrastructure owner and manager to discuss the implementation of its proposed changes to working practices. Both parties will now agree on the next steps.

Network Rail Reforms
Network Rail has formally started the legal consultation process on the maintenance reforms required to modernise and improve productivity and efficiency

Proposed reforms include the introduction of individual rostering and multifunctional teams and upskilling staff so that more employees can fix the most common faults.

The organisation also wants to speed up the deployment of time and life-saving technologies, which it says has been stuck in trade union consultation for more than two years.

Network Rail has said these reforms will make maintenance activity much more efficient than it currently is and will help the rail industry to catch up with wider norms in comparable industries, as highlighted in the recent Nichols report.

The proposed reforms are likely to lead to a smaller maintenance workforce – from around 10,000 to around 8,000. However, Network Rail has said it doesn’t expect to have to make any compulsory redundancies, with the changes made through voluntary severance, retraining and redeployment.

It added that the reforms would improve safety for both staff and passengers as well as boost efficiency and therefore train service. They would also save money, putting the industry in a better financial situation, it said.

This would help the industry recover from the hit of the pandemic lockdowns and the tendency for more people to now choose hybrid work options, which has resulted in significantly fewer commuters and consequently significantly less income.

This year Network Rail will see a shortfall of approximately two billion GBP (2.39bn EUR | 2.43bn USD) compared with 2019.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail Chief Executive, said:

“It would be wrong to fund this deficit through increases in fares or taxes when we know that some of our working practices are fundamentally broken. That’s why we must make progress with modernising the way we carry out maintenance work and making the savings that are necessary for the future of our railway.”

Finance is a key issue right now, with staff strikes regarding pay increases continuing into August.

Network Rail has said it wants to give its people a fair wage but it has to be affordable, and its most recent offer met many of the RMT’s demands and was within its budget.

It says the alternative is to ask either taxpayers or passengers to fund a pay increase, which is neither fair nor realistic. Haines has said, however, that the organisation hasn’t given up on finding a negotiated way forward.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said:

“We’ve made a good pay offer and our door remains open, but we can't continue to circle the same ground day after day, week after week and not move forward. These reforms are too important, especially given we started these conversations 18 months ago.

“It is vital that we progress our modernisation plans to help put our railway on a sustainable financial footing for the future.”

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