Unions call for ‘sensible’ proposals to help end rail strikes
Trade union leaders have said that only “sensible” proposals will end the rail dispute as passengers prepare for fresh disruption this week ahead of strikes by tens of thousands of workers.
As the long-running disputes over pay, jobs and conditions continue into the new year, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 14 train operators will stage two 48-hour walkouts from Tuesday and Friday while drivers in the Aslef union will strike on Thursday.
Trade union leaders accused Government ministers of “sitting on their hands” and failing to help secure a deal amid warnings passengers should expect “significant disruption” with only a limited number of trains set to run.
“We don’t want disruption, we want a settlement. There’s been too much disruption on the railway caused by government policy and if we can get sensible proposals we can work up towards a solution,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.
The advice for passengers is to only travel if absolutely necessary, allow extra time and check when first and last trains will depart.
There may also be disruption to services on Sunday January 8 as the striking workers return to their duties.
On RMT strike days, around half of the network will shut down and only about 20% of normal services running.
Trains that do run will start later and finish much earlier than usual, with services typically running between 7.30am and 6.30pm on the day of the strike.
The train drivers’ strike on January 5 will affect 15 operators and will result in even fewer services running, with some companies operating “very significantly reduced” timetables.
The RMT also has an overtime ban in place at 14 train operating companies until Monday that will continue to affect the level of cancellations and the punctuality of some services.
Mr Lynch, who spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of the walkout, said he had received “radio silence” since mid-December as he accused Government ministers of “sitting on their hands”.
“They keep saying that they’re facilitating a deal. And I think it’s absolutely the opposite to that.”
He said that his union wants a settlement, not disruption.
“The Government simply will not give a mandate to the employers, Network Rail and the train operators that will allow this deal to be resolved. They’re sitting on their hands and are noted by their absence from this scene.
“They’ve put a block on the deal and they’re an obstacle rather than a facilitator.”
Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “No-one wants to see these strikes go ahead and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.
“We would advise passengers to only travel if it is absolutely necessary during this period, allow extra time and check when their first and last train will depart.
“Passengers with tickets for between 3-7 January can use their ticket the day before the ticket date, or up to and including Tuesday January 10.
“This dispute will only be resolved by agreeing the long overdue reforms to working arrangements needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, rather than unions condemning their members to losing more pay in the new year.”
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency that the union is “in it for the long haul”, adding: “We don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place.
“They have not offered our members a penny and these are people who have not had an increase since April 2019.
“That means they expect train drivers at these companies to take a real-terms pay cut – to work just as hard for considerably less – when inflation is running at north of 14%.
“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 RMT is campaigning against plans to close ticket offices, cut jobs and move the industry to widespread driver-only operation.
The Times reported on Monday that promised legislation to crack down on strikes could be introduced as soon as this month, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak potentially bringing forward proposals for minimum staffing levels in public services during strikes.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Passengers have rightly had enough of rail strikes and want the disruption to end.
“The Government has demonstrated it is being reasonable and stands ready to facilitate a resolution to rail disputes. It’s time the unions came to the table and played their part as well.
“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public-sector workers would cost everyone more in the long-term – worsening debt, fuelling inflation, and costing every household an extra £1,000.
“Unions should step back from this strike action so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging dispute.”
Mr Whelan added: “We keep coming to the table but the table is bare. Six months after we asked for a pay rise for train drivers who have, now, not had one for nearly four years, we have still not had an offer from the train companies which employ us.
“The ball is in their court. The companies, or this Tory government which stands behind them, could end this dispute now by making a serious and sensible pay offer. It is up to them.”
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The Tory transport minister said “Boig woing, flibble wibble” when asked for comment.
Not asking a lot under normal cicumstances but these are anything but. We have a government which abdicated any responsibility, failed to intervene until the horse had well and truly bolted, and now expects working people and those on benefits to shoulder the burden. Time those in Sunak’s team woke up and realised that if you can’t bring the RPI back down by 5-10% then you have to grant bigger pay deals. Some private sector employers have done just that, maybe with a few strings attached but at least there is scope to earn more and safeguard jobs.