Rail passengers face a second day of severe disruption on the railways as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) strike over pay, jobs and conditions.
RMT members are joined in walkouts on Wednesday (14 December) by Royal Mailworkers who are staging a fresh 48-hour national strike.
The strike action means around half of Britain’s railway lines will be closed all day today as thousands of union members at Network Rail and 14 train operating companies walkout.
As on the first day of the 48-hour strike, only 20% of trains will run today and many parts of the country will have no services at all, including most of Scotland and Wales. Trains that are running will only be in operation from 7.30am to 6.30pm on this week’s strike days.
Most train companies across the UK are likely to be affected and Network Rail has urged 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.
The walkout comes after hopes of a breakthrough in the rail dispute were shattered after Network Railworkers rejected a fresh pay offer. 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.
Meanwhile, postal workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are staging a fresh 48-hour national walkout today - their third of six days of strikes in the run-up to Christmas.
The strike action has forced Royal Mail to bring forward the final posting dates for Christmas cards to 16 December for first class mail and 21 December for special delivery guaranteed.
A meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee will take place to discuss contingency arrangements, marking the second time ministers, officials and military chiefs have come together this week.
Elsewhere, civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) – including driving examiners and Rural Payments Agency workers – continue their walkouts on Wednesday.
The strike action is regional, with members working for the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) having kicked off a month-long rolling strike programme in Scotland and northern England on Tuesday.
Nurses strike looms
The strike action this week comes as nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to start strike action in a row over pay on Thursday (15 December) after talks with the government broke down.
The nursing union was urged to do more to “avoid patient harm” and “alleviate unnecessary distress” for dying patients on strike days by the UK’s four chief nurses and the NHS’s head of cancer care.
Dame Cally Palmer, the national cancer director for NHS England, urged RCN general secretary Pat Cullen to protect “life-saving” and “urgent” cancer operations. In her letter, obtained by Sky News, she wrote: “Our common aim is to ensure we do not cause harm to people undergoing vital cancer treatment to achieve cure or extension of life.”
In response, the RCN insisted that “cancer patients will get emergency and clinically urgent surgery, it is not in doubt”. A spokesperson for the union said: “This is a politically-motivated smear from a government that is failing cancer patients.”
Separately, Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, and her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, also wrote to Ms Cullen raising a series of concerns about patient safety. They said chemotherapy is being rescheduled from the strike days at some hospitals despite the union agreeing it would be exempt nationally.
The chief nurses also asked for assurances that community nursing services providing “end of life care and good pain and symptom relief” continue in order to “alleviate unnecessary distress” for palliative patients and their families.
The RCN said on Tuesday that it had agreed further exemptions to the strike action, including emergency cancer services and “front-door” urgent care assessment and admission units for paediatric-only A&E departments.
The wave of industrial action continues to grow as physiotherapists in England and Wales voted to strike in their first ever ballot on pay, and midwives and maternity support workers in Wales, who are members of the Royal College of Midwives, have also voted to go on strike.
Additionally, members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) rail workers’ union at operator CrossCountry are also set to strike on Boxing Day and 27 December, it was announced on Tuesday.