Rail strikes: Passengers face days of travel chaos as last-ditch talks fail
Rail passengers face days of travel chaos after last-ditch talks failed to resolve a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, in the biggest outbreak of industrial action on the railways for a generation.
Services across the UK will start to be affected from Monday evening, with just one in five trains running on strike days, mainly on main lines and only for about 11 hours.
ScotRail has confirmed 90 per cent of its services will not run on the days directly affected by the strikes, with trains to operate on just five key routes.
Signallers involved in the walkout are leaving the Scotland network at a virtual standstill, despite ScotRail workers not being directly involved in industrial action.
Talks were held until Monday afternoon, but the row remained deadlocked, with all sides blaming each other for the lack of progress.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said Network Rail had offered a 2 per cent pay rise with the possibility of a further 1 per cent later dependent on efficiency savings.
He warned the dispute could continue for months, adding: “It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4 billion of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.
“The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the relevant rates of inflation, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years.
“At the behest of the Government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies.”
Mr Lynch also urged the Labour Party to support the union now its members would be taking industrial action.
There were clashes in the Commons between transport secretary Grant Shapps and Labour over his handling of the dispute.
Answering criticism that he has not been involved in talks, Mr Shapps said the Government was keeping out of discussions, which were “highly technical”.
He said industrial action would “endanger” jobs rather than save them, and denied claims the Government was imposing a pay freeze on rail workers.
The Government’s plans for reforms of the rail industry were aimed at building a “sustainable growing railway”.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the Government had overseen a “catastrophic failure of leadership”, adding the talks were a “sham” because “ministers have set them up to fail”.
Steve Montgomery, who chairs the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We are very disappointed that the RMT leadership has decided to reject our offer and press ahead with disruptive industrial action.
“With passenger numbers still at around 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels the industry remains committed to giving a fair deal on pay while taking no more than its fair share from taxpayers.
“This can only be achieved by making improvements, like offering better services on a Sunday, that reflect the changing needs of passengers so we can attract more back.
“This is what the country wants to see from a modern rail system, and we call on the RMT leadership to continue to talk to us so we can secure a thriving long-term future for the railway and its workforce.”
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “No strike is inevitable until the moment it begins, but sadly disruption is guaranteed so we’re asking passengers to plan ahead and only travel by train if necessary.”
London Underground workers are also on strike on Tuesday.
Government plans to allow agency workers to replace strikers were slammed by the recruitment industry and trade unions.
The TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) issued a strongly worded joint statement calling on the Government to abandon its “unworkable” plan.
They opposed it in the “strongest possible terms”, adding: “Using agency staff to cover strikes will only prolong the conflict between employers and their staff. Strikes are industrial disputes within a single industry or firm.
“Government needs to step up and do the work around resolving industrial disputes rather than inserting a third party in the form of agency workers into a dispute. That does nothing to solve the underlying issues between the company and their staff.”
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said: “The Government’s proposal will not work. Agency staff have a choice of roles and are highly unlikely to choose to cross picket lines.”
The TUC had called on the Government to adopt a positive role in the dispute, saying it was “inflaming tensions” with comments such as threatening to “revoke” workers’ legal rights.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government has the power to help end this dispute but rather than working in good faith to find a negotiated settlement, ministers are inflaming tensions and trying to pitch worker against worker.
“Instead of threatening to do a P&O on these workers and rip up their rights, ministers should be getting people around the table to help agree a fair deal.”
Ms O’Grady said nobody takes strike action lightly, but maintained that rail staff had been left with “no other option”.
“Many rail staff who will be hit hardest – such as caterers and cleaners – are on low and average earnings. It’s insulting to ask them to take yet another real-terms pay cut when rail companies took £500 million in profits during the pandemic,” she said.
“If these cuts go ahead thousands of safety-critical and frontline jobs will be lost, with train services at risk too.
“We need a better vision for the future of rail than commuters packed on unsafe trains like sardines.”
The strikes will affect a number of events, including the Glastonbury festival and London concerts by Elton John and the Rolling Stones, as well as the Colourbox Festival at Bellahouston Park and Biffy Clyro concert at Ingliston on Saturday.