It was announced last week that a second two-day strike by the RMT union planned for January 6 and 7 had been cancelled, following new talks with Nexus bosses.
Amid a bitter war of words in recent months, the rail operator had accused unions of rejecting an “unprecedented” offer that would have seen drivers’ salaries jump by 15%, plus further cost of living pay rises, to £46,000 by 2022.
The RMT said Nexus wanted its drivers to work with “unlimited flexibility”, trading off terms and conditions of their contracts relating to issues including overtime and shift lengths in return for an increase in their basic salary.
But under a new deal thrashed out in five-hour negotiations on December 27, drivers will receive three basic salary rises by October 2021. That would be equivalent to an 18.5% rise taking their pay to £45,000 – but that would be further boosted by separate annual cost of living increases, which are yet to be negotiated.
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Drivers will give Nexus greater flexibility with their working days in return, to reduce Metro’s over-reliance on staff working overtime shifts, as well as agreeing to work 12-week notice periods so that the organisation has more time to replace drivers who leave for other jobs.
Nexus had previously argued that meeting union pay demands could result in cuts to public services, including the Metro and subsidised bus services.
However, bosses say that the proposed new agreement is “within existing budgets” – but that cuts may be needed beyond next year amid heavy pressures that also include high maintenance costs and lower than expected Metro fare revenue.
Further negotiations will be held early next week to iron out the details of the new agreement, before the offer is put to both RMT and Aslef union members.
Revised offer will go to vote
Nexus’ director of finance and resources, John Fenwick, said: “We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the train crew unions over pay and changes to terms and conditions. A revised offer will be put to their members to vote on and we expect to know the outcome later this month.
“The deal on the table is an 18.5% increase in train crew pay, payable in instalments over two years. In return Nexus will get more roster flexibility from train crew, allowing for improved duty lengths and less reliance on overtime.
“This will enable the smooth introduction of the new Metro fleet, with train crew required to undertake extensive testing, training and commissioning on the new trains.
“Other flexibility includes train crew notice periods increasing to 12 weeks, which gives us more time to replace any drivers that leave.
“The pay deal is being funded from within existing budgets together with us being much less reliant on overtime in future, as part of the new train crew agreement.
“Nexus has set a balanced budget next year, but we continue to operate in a difficult financial climate and protecting frontline services will become more of a challenge in the years ahead.
RMT regional organiser Micky Thompson said talks with Nexus had been “constructive” and resulted in compromises on both sides.
He added that the RMT had “stood by our word” by calling off both the proposed two-day strike and a ban on overtime working.
Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone has raised fears about the financial implications of the new deal.
He said: “I recognise that it is important that a viable deal is reached between Nexus and the unions in order to avoid significant further disruption to Metro from strike action, but I also think it’s important to ensure that the budgetary implications of the deal are fully understood.
“The annual fare increase goes into force this week, and I am keen to understand whether the proposals will impact on either fares or service levels, given a reduced farebox income and recent predictions that a balanced budget will require use of Nexus reserves in the next two financial years.”