The dispute between members of the RMT and Nexus, operators of the Tyne and Wear Metro, has escalated once again with the union announcing they will be going on a two day strike on two days in the lead up to Christmas – Friday 20th and Saturday 21st December. Nexus have warned that if the strike goes ahead it is “highly likely that there will be no Metro services across the entire Metro system”.
The whole dispute comes down to new pay and conditions currently under negotiation. Nexus have offered drivers a 15% increase in salary over two years plus the standard annual cost of living rise which would bring salaries to an estimated £46,000 per year by 1st April 2022. This is, however, just one part of the offer as there would also be changes to working practices that Nexus say will reduce the likelihood of trains being cancelled due to driver shortages and to help with the introduction of the new Metro fleet. No details of what these changes would be have been made public.
From 1st December there has been an overtime ban by RMT members which has been having a major impact on services over the past week. The Tyne and Wear Metro have been updating passengers each day on which services were unable to operate as a result of this action with a traffic light system. To take one day as an example – Friday 5th December – the status was given as “Red – Poor Service” with five “core trains and nine peak trains cancelled”. Whilst you would expect a “train” to be a single service this is in fact a complete diagram and meant that 41 services did not run on this day. Coupled with continued issues with railhead conditions it is making travelling on the Metro a miserable experience for many at the moment.
Back to the strike action and in response to the announcement, Chris Carson, Metro Services Director, said: “This is totally unjustified strike action by the RMT union. It is going to be hugely disruptive for the tens of thousands of working people and local businesses who rely on its services. This action shows a callous disregard for the people who rely on the Metro every day, and all the more so as Christmas approaches. Unfortunately, people will need to plan ahead and find alternative modes of travel when it is taking place. We have been trying hard to persuade the RMT to agree to a deal for our train crew, including a 15 percent pay increase and improved rostering arrangements. Nexus met with union for six hours of talks where we offered further concessions, yet they walked away without an agreement. Metro is a publicly owned railway, it does not make any profit, and it can only operate thanks to significant subsidy paid by taxpayers. What the unions are demanding is simply unaffordable and unrealistic. We simply cannot match the pay levels of train drivers who work for privately run operators. I continue to strongly urge union members to think long and hard about taking this action. It harms an essential public service, its passengers, and the area as a whole.”
The two days of the strike are likely to be two of the busiest trams in the lead up to Christmas with shopping, parties and a Newcastle United home match all set to be affected.