The biggest rail strikes in a generation in the U.K. will begin this week after talks between industry and union bosses failed, the RMT union has announced Saturday.
A total of 40,000 RMT staff at Network Rail and 13 train operating companies will bring the network to a virtual standstill for six days when they walk out in a dispute over low pay rises and potential job cuts, the Financial Times reported.
The industrial action is scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but passengers will face six days of disruption from Tuesday morning until Sunday, because trains will be out of place and night shift staff will not clock on.
Network Rail, the public body that runs railway infrastructure, has outlined plans to run only about 4,500 of the normal 20,000 daily trains on strike days, and to shut thousands of miles of track across swaths of the country.
Trains will only run for 11 hours per day, between 7.30am and 6.30pm, and passengers have been urged to only travel if necessary.
The strike will cause disruption across England, Scotland and Wales, the BBC reported.
On Tuesday RMT workers will also strike on the London Underground, in a separate dispute with Transport for London.
The RMT said the pay rises being discussed, little more than 2-3 per cent because of the public sector pay cap and railway budget cuts, are inadequate at a time when inflation is forecast to hit 11 per cent this year.
The RMT said its position in all pay negotiations was for an above Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation pay rise.
RPI, a measure of inflation used to calculate the cost of living in the U.K. was 11.1% as of April 2022 – up from 2.9% a year earlier. The union said it had recently secured an 8.4% rise workers on the London Underground.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that “despite the best efforts of our negotiators” no viable settlements to the disputes had been created.
Lynch blamed the government for cutting funding to the transport system – which he said amounted to £4bn – and said as a result companies were cutting benefits, making staff work longer, and making them poorer in retirement.
The RMT also warned of job cuts, although Network Rail managers believe they can cut around 2,000 jobs through voluntary rather than compulsory redundancies.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said the railway needs to find savings after receiving £16bn of taxpayer support during the pandemic, and that RMT leaders had refused to discuss modernisation.
There are fears within the railway industry that next week’s strikes will be just the first of many this summer.