Train services around Britain have resumed after nearly a week of disruption caused by strikes by rail workers.
Around 80% of services were cancelled across four days of action by the RMT, with knock-on effects on surrounding days effectively crippling the network. These effects were compounded by a 24-hour walkout by train drivers represented by Aslef, who were also striking in an ongoing dispute with rail operators.
Services have now begun to return to normal as the unions, rail company representatives and government ministers meet to discuss the industrial action which has been causing chaos on the railways since June last year.
The lastet round of strikes saw the RMT hold two 48-hour walkouts, with Aslef member staging their own 24-hour walkout in the day between RMT action. Both unions are in dispute with train operating companies over pay, conditions and job security, while the RMT is also at loggerheads with Network Rail on the same matters.
Along with Aslef and the TSSA, the RMT is in dispute with employers over pay and conditions for its members, amid claims that workers are facing a real-terms pay cut and accusations that the government is interfering to block settlements.
The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said proposed laws to block industrial action as a “symbol” that the Government is “losing the argument”. Speaking from the picket line at Euston Station on Friday, Mr Lynch told BBC Breakfast: “It is really important in a democratic society that we have free trade unions that represent working people and represent the biggest democratic force in this country. There is no bigger movement than the trade union movement, six or seven million people in it.”
He said of the new laws: “What this is a symbol of is that the Government are losing the argument. They’ve lost the argument on austerity and pay, and the state of our national public services. And instead they want to close that argument down by closing down the unions and stopping us from campaigning against poverty.”
What dates are the January strikes?
RMT members have now complete four days of all-out strike action, on Tuesday 3-Wednesday 4 and Friday 6-Saturday 7 January.
Aslef’s members held industrial on Thursday 5 January, staging a 24-hour walkout. This, and the knock-on effect of the RMT strikes caused massive disruption and reduction on services across large parts of the country for most of the week.
Neither union has announced any more strike dates but both have mandates for further action until the end of May 2023 and warned that more strikes are likely unless progress can be made towards an acceptable deal on pay and conditions.
The TSSA has confirmed its members working on London’s Elizabeth line will stage a 24-hour walkout on Thursday 12 January before work-to-rule action takes effect from 12 January to Tuesday 28 February.
The RMT is in dispute with national infrastructure operator Network Rail as well as Avanti West Coast; c2c; Chiltern Railways; Cross Country Trains; East Midlands Railway; Greater Anglia; Great Western Railway; GTR; LNER; Northern Trains; South Eastern; South Western Railway; Transpennine Express and West Midlands Trains.
Any further Aslef strikes will affect Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, GTR Great Northern Thameslink, London North Eastern Railway, Northern Trains, Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, South Western Railway (depot drivers only), SWR Island Line, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Trains.
Most TSSA strike action finished at the end of 2022 but alongside the Elizabeth line walkout, members at Great Western Railway, LNER, Southeastern, Greater Anglia and Govia Thameslink are taking action short of strike until mid-January. That means that TSSA members will not cover the duties of other rail workers who may be involved in strike action.
When will the rail strikes end?
There has been some progress at individual train companies in recent weeks, with unions including the RMT, TSSA and Unite reaching agreements in some areas. However, there is still no sign of a settlement between the unions and most of the train operators or Network Rail.
The RMT recently reached a settlement with Transport for Wales and ScotRail, claiming that the Westminster government was “the odd one out” in stopping train companies from reaching an agreement. It is still in dispute with 14 operators in England as well as Network Rail, while Aslef is in dispute with 15 train companies and the TSSA is taking action at 10 operators.
Network Rail’s chief negotiator Tim Shoveller said a deal with the RMT was within “touching distance”. He said that clearing up areas of misunderstanding in the latest offer could be enough to swing members’ opinion in favour of a deal. However, there appears to have been little progress between unions and the train companies, with train drivers’ representatives warning strike action could be escalated.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch is due to meet with rail industry bosses and ministers this week and said: “We would like to get into a situation where we’re negotiating constantly with the companies and where we didn’t have to have strike action, and then work up a settlement that our members could vote on and accept. But if we don’t get that there will have to be more action, and we’ve got a mandate that runs through to May this year.”
Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan said train drivers who had kept the country moving throughout the pandemic were now being faced with a real-terms pay cut and “are in this for the long haul”. He warned that more strikes were “inevitable” unless the train companies and government stopped “playing games”. He commented: “The situation is getting worse and my members now want to go harder and faster because of the lack of progress. It is inevitable that more strikes will be held and probably escalate.
“The train companies say their hands have been tied by the government. While the government – which does not employ us – says it’s up to the companies to negotiate with us. We are always happy to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down at the table and talk – but these companies have offered us nothing, and that is unacceptable.”
The TSSA said its members were “sick and tired of being taken for granted”. Organising director Nadine Rae said: “Our members… deserve a pay rise to help manage the escalating cost of living, and they rightly demand job security. Train operators under the control of the Department for Transport need to face up to the fact that only serious offers which meet our aspirations will end this dispute.”
Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail said the company had put a “decent” pay offer to the RMT. He said: “In talks over the months we have sought to address all the RMT’s concerns by putting a decent pay rise on the table, guaranteeing a job for anyone that wants one, significantly raising base salaries for the lowest paid and offering a new, huge rail travel discount scheme for members and their families. By any reasonable measure, we have put a fair deal on the table.”