Commuters are being warned to brace for major disruption this week as fresh train strikes are set to bring the UK’s rail network to a standstill.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are today walking out in the first of a wave of 48-hour strikes in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions. It is expected that only 20% of trains will run today, with some parts of the country getting no services at all.
Hopes of a major breakthrough in the rail dispute have been shattered after Network Railworkers rejected a fresh pay offer. The RMT said 63.6% voted to reject Network Rail’s offer on an 83% turnout.
Network Rail had offered a 5% pay rise for this year – backdated to January – with another 4% at the start of 2023 and a guarantee of no compulsory job losses until January 2025. The RMT’s executive recommended rejecting the offer, saying it was linked to “significant” changes to working practices.
It means that around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will now press ahead with two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail – and 14 train companies – on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (13, 14, 16 and 17 December).
General secretary Mick Lynch said: “This is a huge rejection of Network Rail’s substandard offer and shows that our members are determined to take further strike action in pursuit of a negotiated settlement.
“The government is refusing to lift a finger to prevent these strikes and it is clear they want to make effective strike action illegal in Britain. We will resist that and our members, along with the entire trade union movement, will continue their campaign for a square deal for workers, decent pay increases and good working conditions.”
Mr Lynch insisted his members still have the support of the public and said it is the government that is contributing to the “spoiling of the people’s Christmas”. Speaking on Good Morning Britain on Tuesday (13 December), he said: “I have no intention of spoiling people’s Christmas. The government is contributing to that spoiling of the people’s Christmas because they’ve brought these strikes on by stopping the companies from making suitable proposals.
“That’s the position that we’re in and we’ll have to keep this dispute going until we get a reasonable settlement and a reasonable set of proposals that our members want to accept.”
He added: “We’ve still got plenty of time before the Christmas Eve strikes if (Network Rail chief executive) Andrew Haines and the train operating companies, Huw Merriman the rail minister, and Mark Harper the Secretary of State, want to come to me with a set of serious proposals to improve their offer so that we can get a settlement to the dispute, we’ll come over and see them as soon as possible.
“They’ve already invited me to a set of talks and we’ll attend those to try and get a settlement to this dispute. And when our members decide that they want to accept it, that’s when the dispute will be finished.”
‘Only travel if necessary’
Trains are only running from 7.30am to 6.30pm on this week’s strike days, although many parts of the country will have no services, including most of Scotland and Wales.
Most train companies across the UK are likely to be affected by the strike action, with Network Rail urging passengers to “only travel if absolutely necessary”. Commuters are advised to check their train-operating company’s website before travelling as delays and cancellations are also likely on the days around the strikes.
RMT workers at Network Rail will also strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December. But with further walkouts planned, Network Rail has warned there will be significantly reduced services, with trains more crowded and likely to start later and finish earlier until 8 January. Passengers planning to travel on Christmas Eve will likely be urged to complete their journeys by the time industrial action begins.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “The RMT leadership needs to think long and hard about what to do next. Further strike action will cause further misery for the rail industry and for their members who will lose pay.
“This news is especially frustrating given that we learnt today that colleagues represented by Unite union have accepted the very same offer put to RMT members. The RMT are the outliers here. They need to stop playing politics and work with us to bring this dispute to an end.
“There is clearly a significant number of Network Rail colleagues who want this deal but are caught up by these needless strikes and collective bargaining. Our offer, which is worth over 9% with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and no changes to anyone’s terms and conditions, remains on the table. Our railway still faces a real financial crisis and because of that we will continue with the consultation around the implementation of the maintenance reforms.
“Sadly, with strikes now set to go ahead, passengers can expect to see widespread rail disruption throughout the week. We will continue to work closely with operators to run as many services as possible but we continue to ask passengers to only travel if absolutely necessary.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson, added: “The government helped facilitate a fair and improved offer, delivering a pay increase more generous than those in the private sector and guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies.
“The significant proportion of RMT members who voted to accept this, despite being instructed not to, clearly recognised that. Unite members have accepted the very same offer and the TSSA leadership has also recommended its members to accept it.
“There is clearly an appetite amongst the workers themselves to strike a deal, which is what makes this result even more frustrating. The government has played its part in trying to resolve this dispute and it’s time for unions to play theirs. That’s not only what passengers and the public want, but clearly what a lot of rail workers want as well.”