Strike action could be on the cards on the Tyne and Wear Metro after drivers represented by the RMT and ASLEF unions rejected a proposed pay rise of 15% over two years; on top of the usual cost of living increase. In announcing the news of the rejection Nexus, who operate the Metro, said they were astonished at the rejection whilst urging the unions to get back around the table to discuss the offer further.
The pay offer made by Nexus would have seen Metro drivers earning up to £46,000 per year by 1st April 2022. The offer included a 15% rise over two years in addition to the usual cost of living increases. But both unions have rejected this offer and have also demanded improved terms and conditions including reduced shift lengths.
In a lengthy statement, Chris Carson, Metro Services Director, said: “We are about to start the process of transforming the Metro system with a new train fleet and as part of this we have made an unprecedented pay offer to our Metro drivers of a 15 percent increase in salary over two years, on top of the annual cost of living rise. In return for this we are asking for some changes to working practices that will reduce the likelihood of trains being cancelled due to driver shortages, and help us with the once-in-a-lifetime task of introducing a new train fleet. We’re astonished that this offer has been rejected and that the trades unions not only want more pay, but also to work reduced shift lengths which can only be achieved by us employing significantly more drivers. The trades unions have not made any suggestions as to where the money should come from to pay for this. Metro is a publicly owned service run for the benefit of the local community. Not only does it not make any profit, but it can only operate thanks to significant subsidy paid by taxpayers. Metro is about to benefit from the biggest investment since it opened, with new trains coming that will improve the drivers’ working environment every bit as much as they will transform the experience for passengers. I urge the unions to get around the table with us to finalise the details of this pay deal so that we can get on with our job of transforming the Metro for the people who rely on it. If despite this offer the unions do choose to take industrial action we will do everything we possibly can to keep our passengers informed about any disruption that results.”
In response an ASLEF spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the company, which had indicated it would do its best to match drivers’ salaries offered elsewhere on the rail network, and consequently stop the drain of drivers from Tyne & Wear Metro, has decided, at the last moment, to come up short. The company needs to get its act together, deliver on promises it made in private, and make sure it trains and retains the right number of drivers it needs to run the service it has promised passengers it will deliver. The company is haemorrhaging staff and only the company can put that right.”
Currently Metro does rely heavily on drivers working overtime and presumably the “changes to working practices” mentioned above relates to this. It is widely reported in the local media that any industrial action may stop short of a strike but would involve a ban on overtime working which would still have a significant effect because of this reliance in order to operate the service. With driver shortages a regular occurrence already on the network causing delays this is only likely to make the problem worse. Updates as and when we get them.