More industrial action possible as workers stage their second strike of the week

Passengers were again stuck in the middle of disputes between rail workers and bosses as disruption is still being felt following strikes, Chris Choi reports.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union leader has hinted at the prospect of further strikes if a settlement is not reached on the industrial dispute, as thousands of railway workers stage a second day of walkouts after talks failed.

Mick Lynch, who says the union is working with Network Rail and other operators on solving the dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, said the RMT will review its options next week.

But he suggested the next strike day on Saturday may not be the last.

"We will listen to the stuff that we have heard from the companies, and we will plan the next stage of our campaign and that will include industrial action if we do not get a negotiated settlement," Mr Lynch told ITV News.

He described the negotiations as being "difficult", with the companies adding "more things on the table" - such as lowering pay rates and making staff work more night shifts - which complicate the talks.

"I see it ending up with a settlement. Every dispute has to be settled but we are determined to get a good position for our people," Mr Lynch added, as he spoke of his determination not to be involved in a "race to the bottom".

But he made it clear that his union needs a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies for the negotiations to progress positively.

In an earlier interview, Mr Lynch told Sky News that more train drivers could become involved in the strike at a later stage, causing it to "escalate".

"We might have more drivers coming into the dispute through separate ballots," he said.

"So that is going to escalate and there will be more pressure on the government and the companies to get a settlement for all workers in the industry."

Members of the RMT at Network Rail and 13 train operators are taking industrial action on Thursday, impacting services across the UK.

Only around one in five trains will run and mainly on main lines during the day, dramatically decreasing footfall at many stations as those who can, work from home.

Network Rail has said footfall at Bristol Temple Meads station, for example, is down about 70%, with dozens of RMT members on the picket line at the front of the station this morning.

High street footfall was 16.1% lower to 1pm on Thursday than on the same day last week, and down 8.5% on Tuesday, retail analysts Springboard said.

High streets were less busy than usual. Credit: PA

In central London, the drop from last week was more than double the national average, down 34.4%, compared with a fall of 27% on Tuesday.

Compared with pre-pandemic 2019, footfall was down 32.9% across all high streets on Thursday, compared with a drop of 19.6% on Tuesday, and down 52.1% in central London, compared with a fall of 49.2% on Tuesday.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “On the second day of train strikes, it appears that not only are people working from home, but fewer people are visiting their local high streets.

“The key fact is that the impact of the strike today appears to be even greater than the first strike.”

Passengers look for train departure times at Euston, the sixth busiest railway station in Britain.

Edinburgh Waverley, London Euston, London Paddington and Liverpool Lime Street are also among the stations with much fewer passengers than a typical weekday. Broadband provider Virgin Media O2 said it recorded an increase in usage of up to 10% on the first day of the strikes on Tuesday, indicating that “millions more people are working from home” this week.

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia are also striking on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.

The company, which is also affected by the RMT strike, advised passengers to travel only if it was necessary.

Ahead of the strike, the government announced plans to change the law to enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union members outside Newcastle station. Credit: PA

Ministers pointed out that under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikers, saying it can have a “disproportionate impact”.

The legislation will repeal the “burdensome” legal restrictions, giving businesses impacted by strike action the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses who can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice, said the government.

"We need a lot more flexibility to make sure that when unions are holding the public to ransom - effectively - agency workers can be used to fill the gaps," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Thursday. He went on to insist that any employer taking on agency workers would have to maintain the "highest health and safety standards".

Network Rail welcomed the move but Labour and unions condemned it as a “recipe for disaster.”

The RMT accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of “wrecking” negotiations.

Empty platforms at Stratford station as some London services remain part suspended. Credit: PA

Mr Lynch believes the idea of agency staff replacing striking workers is an "irrelevance and a distraction", saying agency workers - without training - can't carry out safety critical work on the railway. "That is an enormous risk Grant Shapps will be taking. Personally, I think it is a load of puff and hyperbole because he wants to distract from the idea that he is preventing an agreement. "The reason he is preventing an agreement is that he wants to screw down public sector wages and make peoples working lives worse."

Trains sit in sidings at Heaton Depot in Newcastle. Credit: PA

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced that its members at Merseyrail had accepted a 7.1% pay offer.

General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “What this clearly shows is our union, and sister unions, are in no way a block on finding the solutions needed to avoid a summer of discontent on the railways.

“Rather, it is the government who are intent on digging in their heels. Grant Shapps would be wise to start talking seriously to our union as we ballot for industrial action on our railways up and down the land.”

Speaking from Rwanda, Boris Johnson said that the rail strikes this week are “unnecessary” and stressed the benefits of “sensible reforms” of the rail system. “I just think it is important to remember that these strikes are unnecessary. I think people should get around the table and sort it out,” the prime minister said.

He echoed comments from the Rail Delivery Group that reform is needed in the industry.

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