Rail travellers face a solid week of disruption early in the new year following news that train drivers are set to strike.
The confirmation of new strike action by Aslef union members compounds recent strike announcements from the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) and will add to the chaos caused by the latest round of action by RMT members.
Aslef members will stage a single 24-hour walkout at 15 train operating companies in January, adding to four days of action by the RMT.
Last week the RMT held the first in a series of planned 48-hour walkouts, which shut half of all rail lines in Britain and reduced services by 80%. RMT members at Network Rail and 14 train operating companies are due to stage five 48-hour strikes in December and January in an ongoing battle with employers over pay and working conditions. These actions are being run in close succession and Network Rail has warned that even on strike days services will not run as normal.
RMT leaders are still in talks with the rail companies in a bid to avert the upcoming strike action and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said on Friday he was hopeful progress could be made “in the next week or so”. However, if the talks are not successful staff will strike again after Christmas.
The latest strikes escalate action to a series of four 48-hour walkouts which are expected to have a similar impact to previous strikes which saw half of all rail lines shut down and 80% of services cancelled. A ballot last month gave the union a mandate for another six months of action, raising the prospect of industrial action up until May 2023.
When will the next train strikes be?
If the union and rail bosses can’t reach an agreement, the next 48-hour RMT strike will run from 6pm on 24 December until 6am on 27 December. RMT boss Mick Lynch said this primarily affect engineering work and not passenger services. He noted: “The disruption for people on the strike days that are actually happening at Christmas will be minimal. The railway shuts down on Christmas Eve in any case to do engineering works, so there aren’t scheduled trains on Christmas Day, nor on Boxing Day, and the railway curtails its activities early on Christmas Eve. That will be a little bit earlier than usual.” However Network Rail said it would cause severe disruption and urged against any non-essential travel on Christmas Eve.
Unless a resolution is reached, RMT members will then stage two more 48-hour strikes on Tuesday 3-Wednesday 4 January 2023, and Friday 6-Saturday 7 January.
Members of the TSSA union at CrossCountry will strike on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 December, while workers at West Midlands Trains (WMT) and Great Western Railway will walk out for 24 hours from noon on Wednesday 28 December.
TSSA members are also taking action short of strikes at Great Western Railway, LNER, Southeastern, Greater Anglia, Govia Thameslink. That action means that TSSA members will not cover the duties of other rail workers who may be involved in strike action. That action began on Tuesday 13 December and will run until the end of current ballot mandates, most of of which end in January.
Aslef has said its drivers will walkout on Thursday 5 January, meaning services will be significantly affected on the day between the planned RMT action. Train drivers will strike at 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.
And staff on London’s Elizabeth line have voted to take industrial action. Members of Prospect at Rail for London Infrastructure (RfLI) after rejecting a 4% pay offer for 2022. In a statutory ballot, 94% voted for strike action. The exact nature and timing of any action is still to be decided.
A strike by members of Unite at Network Rail will not go ahead after they voted to accept the pay offer.
Why have the unions announced more strikes?
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place. They have not offered our members at these companies a penny, and these are people who have not had an increase since April 2019.
“These drivers, who were the men and women who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic, have not had a pay rise for nearly four years. With inflation running at 14% the companies and the Government are saying that they want us to take a real-terms pay cut.
“The companies need to come to the table with a proper proposal to help our members, their drivers, buy this year what they could buy last year.”
The RMT union claims that rail bosses have broken promises to bring a new offer on pay and conditions to negotiations and has accused the government of blocking a settlement. It said that it had suspended strikes in November in “good faith” to allow negotiations but had been left with no choice but to stage further strike action.
Following further negotiations with Network Rail, the union said the latest pay offer - of 5% backdated to January this year and 4% next year - was “poor” and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said it was unfortunate that the union had been “compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers”. The union also once again blamed the government for blocking any improved pay offer from the Rail Delivery Group.
Lynch said: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members.”
TSSA organising director Nadine Rae said that the strike at CrossCountry, GWR and WMT was a response to a lack of guarantees around pay levels, redundancies and conditions. She said: “Our members do not want to strike, especially over the Christmas holiday period, but they are sick and tired of being taken for granted. They 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.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is totally unforgivable that the Government thinks it is acceptable to implement a three-year pay freeze on our members who play a critical role in keeping the rail network operating.
“That this is occurring during the worst cost-of-living crisis in living memory doubles the injustice our members are experiencing.”
What have rail bosses said?
Representatives of the rail industry warned that the strikes would cause incovenience to millions of passengers over the busy festive period.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “This response from the RMT to a significantly enhanced offer exposes their true priority – using the British public and Network Rail workers as pawns in a fight with the Government. What use is a referendum that means that strike disruption is inevitable? At best it’s the tactic the RMT played in October by calling the strikes off at the last minute and causing immense disruption to passengers and vital freight routes.
“They are playing fast and loose with people’s Christmas plans and the new strike dates announced deliberately target vital engineering work designed to improve the railway.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas. It’s especially disappointing given the TSSA union has described this new and improved deal as the ‘best we can achieve through negotiation’ and called off strikes.”
He added: “I would still urge the unions to keep talking, put those deals to their members with at least a neutral recommendation, and call off the strikes before Christmas which are going to be so damaging to individuals and businesses across a whole range of sectors.”