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A new offer will be tabled to the militant RMT rail union as early as today in a bid to halt their strikes.

It is understood train bosses will make a new pay offer of at least 9 per cent over two years to workers for 14 firms. This is up from the current 8 per cent offer.

They had looked at a 10 per cent rise and this was considered by ministers. But officials are understood to have only approved an extra 1 per cent increase.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Aslef train drivers’ union, on Wednesday told the Commons Transport Select Committee there was ‘zero’ chance of a resolution.

But Mr Harper later said that was ‘unfair’ as the situation had ‘moved on’.

He told ITV’s Peston: ‘I’m hopeful that now that there is a renewed offer on the table, that that (a deal) can happen, and we saw confirmation today.

‘The evidence that was given to the Transport Select Committee that there are conversations going on between various of the unions and the companies and I’m hopeful we’ll make some progress in the coming days.’

A new offer will be tabled to the militant RMT rail union as early as today in a bid to halt their strikes. Pictured: Mick Lynch general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) leaves the Department of Transport in Westminster, London, January 9, 2023

A new offer will be tabled to the militant RMT rail union as early as today in a bid to halt their strikes. Pictured: Mick Lynch general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) leaves the Department of Transport in Westminster, London, January 9, 2023 

Rail minister Huw Merriman left open the possibility of an improved deal in a meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch on Monday.

The new offer would be for 2022 and 2023, backdated to the beginning of last year.

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The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the 14 train companies involved in the dispute, is scheduled to meet the RMT today and could table the new offer then.

It came as rail union barons said strikes could drag on for months yesterday.

RDG chairman Steve Montgomery told MPs on the Commons transport select committee: ‘I have received a further mandate [from ministers] which will be used tomorrow in talking with the trade unions.

‘But for obvious reasons, like confidentiality, that’s something I can’t talk about.’

It was unclear last night whether Government demands for more driver-only operated (DOO) trains as part of any agreement would be watered down.

Rail minister Huw Merriman left open the possibility of an improved deal in a meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch on Monday. Pictured: Huw Merriman in Westminster, London, January 9, 2023

Rail minister Huw Merriman left open the possibility of an improved deal in a meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch on Monday. Pictured: Huw Merriman in Westminster, London, January 9, 2023

If they are it will boost hopes of a breakthrough as Mr Lynch, also appearing before the committee, told MPs that the RMT will never agree to more DOO trains on the network.

He said: ‘We will not accept DOO in any train company without a fight. We will never sign up to accepting DOO. It will never happen while I’m the general secretary of the RMT, it’ll never happen as long as the RMT exists.’

This is because it could lead to train guards being made redundant. Around 45 per cent of trains on the network carrying 55 per cent of passengers are already driver-only operated.

Even if a deal is struck between the RMT and 14 train operators, the union’s dispute with Network Rail will continue.

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The RMT has snubbed a 9 per cent pay rise offer for 2022 and 2023 from the Government-owned agency, which manages signalling and track maintenance.

It came as rail union barons warned strikes could drag on for months yesterday as they accused ministers of deliberately ‘sabotaging’ talks.

Mr Lynch told MPs that ‘I can’t see the landing zone from here’ for a deal after six months of talks.

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan, TSSA Interim General Secretary Frank Ward and RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, appearing before the Transport Select Committee in the House of Commons January 11, 2023

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan, TSSA Interim General Secretary Frank Ward and RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, appearing before the Transport Select Committee in the House of Commons January 11, 2023

And Mick Whelan, boss of train drivers’ union Aslef, said talks were at ‘zero’ when asked on a scale of one to ten how close a deal was.

‘We’re further away than when we started,’ he added.

He raised the prospect of walkouts lasting several years.

Asked by MPs on the Commons transport committee whether his members could afford to carry on striking, he said: ‘We’re in it for the long haul. Our members will do this – because it’s their futures – for as long as it takes.

‘I rather flippantly said in the press the other day that I’d like to solve it before I retire – I go in three years’ time. We can financially sustain this for a very long time.’

Mr Lynch, who also appeared before MPs, said: ‘It will be sustained as long as they [the members] want it to be sustained.’

However, Network Rail’s chief negotiator Tim Shoveller insisted that talks were ‘seven out of ten’ when asked how close a deal with the RMT was, with ten being an agreement reached.

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He said this was based on more than a third of RMT members voting for the offer of a 9 per cent pay rise when it was put to them in a referendum last month.

Talks with the RMT are more advanced than those with Aslef.

The RMT has snubbed a 9 per cent pay rise offer for 2022 and 2023 from the Government-owned agency, which manages signalling and track maintenance. Pictured: RMT members on the picket line in Birmingham, January 7, 2023

The RMT has snubbed a 9 per cent pay rise offer for 2022 and 2023 from the Government-owned agency, which manages signalling and track maintenance. Pictured: RMT members on the picket line in Birmingham, January 7, 2023

But Mr Lynch accused ministers of blocking talks from progressing before Christmas by inserting eleventh-hour demands for more driver-only operated DOO trains to be rolled out across the network.

Both union leaders said they would ‘fight’ the government’s ‘minimum service levels’ legislation, introduced to Parliament on Tuesday, and potentially challenge it in court.

Mr Lynch even compared it to draconian regimes such as China and Iran.

He said: ‘It’s an infringement of civil liberties. The right to strike is something that any democratic society will have.

‘If they want to run the signalling system on the railways during a dispute, they’ll have to get all the signallers to work and they’ll command them and conscript them to work… if they were doing that in Putin’s Russia, Iran or China, they would rightly be condemned.’

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