Rail strikes to go ahead as last-ditch talks fail to prevent travel chaos

The worst rail strikes in 30 years are on as talks ground to a halt, ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports

Rail strikes in the UK are to go ahead this week after last-ditch talks aimed at preventing travel chaos failed to reach an agreement, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has confirmed.

Buses will be jam-packed as replacement services run to help the millions of commuters and event-goers who will be impacted by the biggest rail strikes to hit Britain since 1989.

But strike action on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday could just be the beginning, with RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch suggesting they could be regularly repeated for months until a settlement is reached.

He blamed the "dead hand of this Tory government" for the dispute, saying ministers were preventing employers from negotiating freely with unions.

Talks between the union, Network Rail and train operators were held into Monday afternoon but the sides remain deadlocked over a deal after the government, which funds the employers, refused to join discussions. Mr Lynch said offers from both employers were "unacceptable", adding: "It is clear that the Tory government, after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.

"The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the relevant rates of inflation, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years."

Speaking outside the RMT’s headquarters near Euston station in London, he added he could not see a settlement being reached until employers could “negotiate freely”.

He said: “What we have come to understand is that the dead hand of this Tory Government is all over this dispute and the fingerprints of Grant Shapps and the DNA of Rishi Sunak are all over the problems on the railway and indeed the problems in this society.

“And until they allow these employers to negotiate freely, I can’t see that we are going to get a settlement to the issues that are in front of us.”

The government is advising people to work from home if they can but there is concern for lower-paid workers who cannot, such as cleaners and those in the health service.

Call for 'sensible compromise'

Boris Johnson is set to call for a “sensible compromise” to shield rail passengers from the country-wide travel chaos.

Boris Johnson is expected to criticise unions. Credit: PA

He is expected to argue ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that unions are “harming the very people they claim to be helping” by going ahead with the biggest outbreak of industrial action on the railways for a generation.

The prime minister is set to accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”, while also hitting businesses across the country.

He will say: “Too high demands on pay will also make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living.

“Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government is doing its "utmost to get the unions and the rail industry to agree a way forward and call off the strikes".

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He added that the government is "not the employer" and it is for the train operating companies, Network Rail and the unions to come to an agreement.

He told the Commons ministers are "doing everything we can, despite these strikes, to minimise the disruption throughout the entire network".

"But there will be mass disruption and we advise passengers to avoid travelling unless absolutely necessary, which of course for many it will be."

And there is concern strike action could spread across the entire public sector as workers demand their wage keeps up with rocketing inflation, which is expected to reach 11% this year.

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have already voted to strike later in June amid disputes over legal aid funding, while teachers and NHS are also said to be considering action.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said the threat of a "general strike" (public sector-wide action which has not been seen in the UK for 96 years) must be taken "very clearly and calmly".

He told ITV News that pay negotiations will take place with each sector but warned an increase close to the predicted level of inflation is highly unlikely.

National Education Union joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted told ITV News that teachers "need to see a pay rise that at least matches inflation".

"If this is not forthcoming, then we will proceed to an indicative ballot in the autumn term with a formal ballot for strike action to follow if that is the recommendation of NEU members.

"Striking is the last thing members want to do, but their work simply hasn't been valued by successive Conservative governments. "

Asked if public sector pay rises could match the predicted 11% inflation rate, Mr Clarke said: "Double-digit pay increases are not sustainable and not affordable and people shouldn't be looking for that."

Exam stress

A student from Devon described the stress and anxiety caused by the possibility of missing a crucial exam ahead of this week’s rail strikes.

Finn Dixon, 18, is set to take one T-level exam on Tuesday and lives more than 64 miles away from his college in Devon, normally only accessible to him by train.

The strikes this week means Mr Dixon’s parents will not work in order to get him there, which causes “even more damage”.

“It has caused me lots of anxiety… and now that I’m also relying on peak motorway traffic, I’m scared I can’t make it in time (for) my exam,” Mr Dixon said.

“Those who live in a similar area are definitely just as affected as I am, we have all been talking for the past week wondering how we’re all going to make it and worrying.

“This course is what I want to do in order to continue on in the IT department and develop further and if I can’t get a final grade, it will result in me trying to find completely different ways into getting into this field.”

Mr Dixon’s anxiety is worsened by the fact he will be required to pay roughly £221 if he needs to re-sit in November as he will be over 18 then.

Barriers will be closed when strike action begins. Credit: PA

Meanwhile Wales Trades Union Congress President Brendan Kelly reportedly told a rally in Merthyr Tydfil that "we may need to consider having a general strike".

The Mirror reports that on Friday he said: “Apparently it’s not in my powers as the TUC President to call a general strike – I might try and debate that with people.

“But if we can’t call a general strike, let’s build a general strike …and a general strike to me is unions synchronising action and saying, ‘We’re not prepared to accept this, we’re saying now’. And we’re entitled to do that, we shouldn’t be frightened of that fact."

Minister Mr Clarke did not rule out changing the law to allow the hiring of agency staff during strike action after the Times newspaper reported legislation could be tabled this week.

"It is a lever open to us. We don't want to have to go down the route of further measures of this kind but, to be clear, we have to protect the public interest here."

One cancer doctor has claimed this week's strikes will "lead to loss of lives" because patients and medical professionals could be prevented from travelling to hospitals.

Downing Street said it was "deeply disappointing" that the strikes are going ahead, arguing that they will not resolve the issues faced on the railways.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "This is deeply disappointing, that these disruptive, these self-defeating strikes will take place this week.

"Striking does nothing to address the long-standing issues that we need to sort to make sure our railway, that the public use and treasure, is fit for the long term."

Where and when are the rail strikes?

The rail strikes are set for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday but delays and cancellations look likely on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, with many trains out of place.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail (NR) and 13 train operators will strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with only around one in five trains running and disruption to services on days following the action.

It coincides with big events like Glastonbury and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, as well as England's Cricket Test match with New Zealand.

The RMT and Unite is also holding a 24-hour walkout on London Underground on Tuesday which will cause huge disruption to the Tube.

Which roads will be worst hit?

The AA predicted the worst affected roads are likely to be main motorway arteries, as well as rural and suburban areas.

Drivers in Scotland and Wales are expected to face long queues as most railway lines there will be closed during the industrial action on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Motorists are being warned to expect a surge in traffic as train passengers switch to road transport during the rail strikes. Credit: PA

The M74, M8 and A9 in Scotland and the M4, A55, A5, and A483 in Wales could see severe traffic, according to the AA.

An AA route planner spokesperson said: “Even though the strike is for three days, many travellers will give up on the trains for the whole week.“

“Generally we predict a big increase in traffic in Scotland, Wales and major routes across the UK.

“The impact will be slightly cushioned by record fuel prices deterring some and more commuters deciding to work from home but congestion will still be a problem.”

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said the strikes will “inevitably lead to the roads being used more”, with major city routes and those serving the home counties likely to see some of the biggest increases in traffic volumes.