Rail catering staff conduct national strike over wage dispute

Catering staff contracted out to TransPennine Express conducted a two-day nationwide strike last weekend over a dispute with their agency concerning pay and pension provisions.

Workers employed by Rail Gourmet, who are the sole providers of catering on TransPennine Express services, took to the picket line on Friday 15 September and Saturday 16 September as part of a 48-hour strike at Manchester Piccadilly, Newcastle Central, Carlisle and Edinburgh Waverley train stations.

As these employees are not regarded as permanent staff by TransPennine Express, their hourly pay stands at £10.90 – just above the National Living Wage – while their colleagues on such services receive a significantly higher wage and additional benefits.

According to the RMT union, this dispute has been ongoing since Rail Gourmet – part of the wider SSP Group – posted a £1.4 million profit in the last financial year. In comparison, its workers are currently entitled to no sick pay, set pension structure, or discounted travel benefits.

Sources within the RMT – who are representing the striking staff – exclusively revealed to Mancunian Matters that this weekend’s picketing follows a rejection of two pay offers from Rail Gourmet last week.

According to those who spoke with MM, the initial offer was £11.25 an hour – which was swiftly rejected by the union. This was followed by an increased offer of £11.32 an hour, which received the same response.

The workers on strike are hoping for an offer of approximately £15 an hour, with a new meeting arranged between the two parties in the week commencing Monday 25 September.

Those close to the negotiations have additionally claimed that Rail Gourmet has made efforts to disrupt the RMT’s organisation, mainly through the inconsistent invitation of various representatives to meetings between the two parties with the aim of “pushing (them) under the carpet”.

Moreover, it has been suggested by RMT representatives that TransPennine Express and Rail Gourmet – who, it is understood by Mancunian Matters from sources close to the matter, have recently agreed to a potential five-year extension of their present deal – are paying their staff £25 an hour to cover for the dearth of caterers caused by the present strike, alongside some being provided with hotel accommodation to ensure minimal disruption is caused.

The provision of the alleged £25 an hour rate has not been addressed by TransPennine Express. Rail Gourmet stated that they did not wish to comment on specific allegations while negotiations are ongoing.

Speaking to Mancunian Matters, the Chair of the RMT’s Manchester South branch said:

“We need to end this two-tier workforce in the rail industry. They need to be treated with dignity and respect and be paid and rewarded for what the work is actually worth.”

Chris Jackson, Managing Director at TransPennine Express, apologised for the lack of catering services provided on their journeys during the strike period.

An SSP spokesperson commented: “We continue to liaise with the RMT and our Rail Gourmet colleagues with the aim of reaching agreement”.

Featured image credit: RMT Manchester South

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