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'No hope' to halting UK train strikes

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-17 07:00
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Travelers across the United Kingdom have been told to avoid all but essential rail travel next week, as the country faces three days of widespread strikes on the railways.

Network Rail has confirmed that about 80 percent of services would have to be scrapped because 40,000 members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, or RMT, are taking action in a dispute over pay and jobs, in what has been described as the country's biggest strike in decades.

It is estimated that just half of the country's rail network will be operational on the strike days-next Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday-with severely restricted services, and some regions having no trains running at all.

Services that do operate will start later and finish earlier. And on the days following strikes, it is thought that only around 60 percent of services will run, again covering a shorter period of time.

Network Rail said there is "no real hope" of the strike being avoided at this stage, and its chief executive Andrew Haines called the actions of the RMT a "high-stakes gamble" as it would prove so costly, making the likelihood of pay rises even more remote.

Many of the grievances relate to post-pandemic economy savings to try and absorb some impact of hugely reduced revenue streams from limited passenger numbers when the coronavirus outbreak was at its peak.

Haines said when plans to improve safety or modernize were discussed, they were met with "intransigence… even when terms and conditions are patently anachronistic", which is why there was no prospect that the strikes could be avoided.

'Calling the shots'

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps calling for face-to-face talks, adding that it is "clear that the Treasury is calling the shots". "In effect, in recent weeks, the union has been negotiating with the government, but the government has not been in the room," Lynch said.

He also hinted that there could be more strikes ahead. "RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways," he said.

Shapps, however, has made it clear the government has no intention of getting involved, saying "these negotiations are a matter between the employer and the union". He also said that having had significant support during the pandemic, the railway industry "needs a new direction".

"It has lost 20 percent of its passengers and 20 percent of its revenue too," Shapps told Parliament.

"We protected the railway with 16 billion pounds ($19.4 billion) during the pandemic… not a single railway worker lost their jobs or were furloughed. This level of subsidy cannot continue forever."

The UK faced widespread labor strikes in 1978-79, which became known as the "Winter of Discontent".

Agencies contributed to this story.

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