Widespread disruption will hit Britain’s railway network later this month after the RMT union on Thursday announced two further strikes, including a 24-hour stoppage that coincides with a walkout by train drivers.
The industrial action by 40,000 members of the RMT, including key signaling workers, on September 15 and September 17 is part of a long-running dispute over pay, working practices and possible job losses with infrastructure owner Network Rail and 14 train operating companies.
The walkout on September 15 will coincide with a 24-hour strike by members of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, for the first time since a series of strikes began this summer. The combined action by the two unions is expected to close down most of the network.
Another rail union, the smaller Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association announced its own 24-hour strike from noon on September 26 earlier this week.
The action by the three unions is the most significant dispute to hit the UK rail industry in decades as workers push for pay rises to match soaring inflation.
“We will continue to negotiate in good faith, but the employers and government need to understand our industrial campaign will continue for as long as it takes,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said.
The three unions have said the action is also in part to protect their members’ jobs and working practices. But train companies and Network Rail have countered that the only way to afford significant pay rises within their budgets is through higher staff productivity.
The government controls the industry’s finances and is pushing for cost cuts to help plug a £2bn annual funding gap following a fall in ticket revenue after the pandemic.
Ministers poured more than £16bn into the industry to keep services running during the pandemic, and argue that major pay rises can only be unlocked by productivity gains if unions agree to major reforms to working practices.
Steve Montgomery, chair of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said the railway “absolutely” wants to give staff a pay rise, but that revenue was still 20 per cent below pre-Covid levels.
“The only solution lies in long-overdue reforms that will put the industry on a sustainable footing and improve services for passengers,” he said.
So far the RMT has rejected an offer from Network Rail which amounted to an 8 per cent pay rise over two years. Train operators are yet to make a formal offer.
The Department for Transport, which sets the industry’s budgets but is not directly involved in the day to day negotiations, said the strikes would be “self-defeating”.
“These reforms deliver the modernizations our rail network urgently needs, are essential to the future of rail, and will happen, strikes will not change this,” it said.