UK unions urge more train strikes
China Daily

Passengers seek information from staff as barriers block access to platforms during a rail strike at Euston Station in London on Oct 5, 2022. [Photo: Agencies]

Travel across the United Kingdom will be disrupted this Christmas after a fresh round of industrial action on the country's railway network was announced, following unions' rejection of a new offer regarding pay and conditions.

Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, or RMT, have been striking since the summer, and already had two stoppages lined up before Christmas, but have now added action from 6pm on Christmas Eve until Dec 27, as well as dates in January.

Around 40,000 rail staff are expected to walk out.

Most trains do not run on Christmas Day or Dec 26, and widespread planned engineering work is carried out at that time of year, which means services are already limited anyway.

The RMT is currently involved in two sets of talks, with Network Rail, which owns and manages the rail network infrastructure, and the Rail Delivery Group, or RDG, which represents the 14 train operating companies.

Britain's national rail network received significant government support during the novel coronavirus pandemic when passenger numbers and revenue plummeted, with the Rail Journal website reporting that in the period April 2020-March 2021, the first year of the pandemic, fares income was just 1.8 billion pounds ($2.19 billion) as opposed to 8.6 billion pounds for the same period in the previous year, with passenger journeys falling by 77.7 percent.

As the country emerges from the full impact of the pandemic disruption, rail budgets are being reappraised, at the same time as railway staff, like other workers, face the challenges of the cost of living crisis.

Network Rail's latest offer, which it calls "best and final", includes a 5 percent pay rise this year and 4 percent next year, and no compulsory redundancies until the end of Jan 2025.

The RMT called the offer "not acceptable" and has recommended its members reject it. It has also rejected the initial offering from the RDG, which also covers pay and redundancies, as well as the issue of the number of crew members on trains.

Talks between the two sides are continuing.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told the BBC he regretted the inconvenience being caused, but said it was the fault of "the government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the railway companies and directing what's going on.

"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," he added.

Another rail union, The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, or TSSA, has called off planned industrial action so it can put the latest offer to its members, but the RMT is standing firm.

Network Rail's chief negotiator Tim Shoveller told Sky News the RMT was "playing fast and loose with people's Christmas plans.

"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," he added.