Railway workers to stage series of 48-hour strikes in December and January

For many, plans will have to be changed and profits - at a critical time of year - will be put at risk, as Ian Woods reports

Railway workers are to stage a series of 48-hour strikes in December and January in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has announced.

More than 40,000 members of the RMT union across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will strike on December 13, 14, 16 and 17 and on January 3, 4, 6 and 7. There will also be an overtime ban across the railways from December 18 until January 2, meaning the RMT will be taking industrial action for four weeks.

The union criticised the government, Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group with its announcement, but the latter said the strikes would cause "huge damage".

Meanwhile, a pub industry representative said they were fearful the strikes would disrupt essential Christmas trade.

A statement from the RMT union said: “Despite every effort made by our negotiators, it is clear that the government is directly interfering with our attempts to reach a settlement.

“The union suspended previous strike action in good faith to allow for intensive negotiations to resolve the dispute.

“Yet Network Rail have failed to make an improved offer on jobs, pay and conditions for our members during the last two weeks of talks.

“At the same time Rail Delivery Group, representing the train operating companies, have also broken a promise to make a meaningful offer on pay and conditions and even cancelled negotiations that were due to take place yesterday.”

Could there be any change and why are the strikes happening? Romilly Weeks reports

The strikes mean passengers will likely face disruption while travelling to events such as those being put on by comedian Peter Kay in London on December 16 and 17.

One pub industry leader warned that the strikes could devastate "absolutely essential" Christmas trading for pubs, bars and brewers across the country.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told ITV News: “Pubs and brewers have been looking forward to welcoming people back to celebrate our first Christmas in three years. 

“It’s really critical trade that we fear the strikes now may interrupt. It’s absolutely essential that we get this Christmas trade in.

“That December trade will see us through a very quiet January, February and March, so I would say to the rail union: recognise the impact you’re having on the economy, get around the table and find a deal.”

Ms McClarkin, who is a member of the Conservative Party and a former MEP, added that the strikes could cause "concern for the future" of British pubs, with the lasting impact of the pandemic and potential effect of the cost of living crisis.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, says it is "critical" the strikes do not interrupt Christmas trade.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the latest round of strikes show how important his members are to "the running of this country".

“We have been reasonable, but it is impossible to find a negotiated settlement when the dead hand of government is presiding over these talks," he said.

“The employers are in disarray and saying different things to different people, sometimes at the same time.

“This whole process has become a farce that only the new secretary of state can resolve. When I meet him later this week, I will deliver that message.

“In the meantime, our message to the public is, we are sorry to inconvenience you, but we urge you to direct your anger and frustration at the government and railway employers during this latest phase of action.

“We call upon all trades unionists in Britain to take a stand and fight for better pay and conditions in their respective industries.

“And we will seek to co-ordinate strike action and demonstrations where we can."

Mick Lynch (centre) takes part in the People's Assembly Britain is Broken national demonstration in central London in November. Credit: PA

Railway workers join civil servants, nurses, university staff and potentially teachers in a wave of planned industrial action over pay and working conditions.

In response to the strike announcement, a Rail Delivery Group spokesman said recent talks had created an "outline of a credible deal" and the fresh strikes would cause "huge damage".

A spokesman said: “We made real progress over the last fortnight of talks and for the first time in months we can see the outline of a credible deal.

“Further strikes, especially in the run up to Christmas, will disrupt the first normal festive season our passengers have been able to look forward to since the Covid pandemic, taking even more money out of the pockets of railway staff, and will cause huge damage to the hospitality and retail sectors dependent on this time of the year for their businesses.

“We owe it to them to stay round the table.

“Industrial action has already cost the industry millions in lost revenue, is stalling its post-pandemic recovery and threatening its long-term sustainability.

“We are asking the RMT to stay at the negotiating table, work with us towards a fair deal and end a dispute that is harming passengers, the industry, and their members.”

The new set of strike dates come after the RMT said train operators and Network Rail had promised to make proposals following “intensive talks” which ended last week.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “No-one can deny the precarious financial hole in which the railway finds itself. Striking makes that hole bigger and the task of finding a resolution ever more difficult.

“Only through reform, that will not result in anyone losing their job, can savings be made that can then be converted into an improved offer.

“While progress has been made over these last two weeks, we still have yet to find that breakthrough.

“We will not give up and hope that the RMT will return to the table with a more realistic appreciation of the situation.”

What has the government said?

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Strike action risks putting the very future of the entire industry in jeopardy.

“These strikes are not only damaging the economy but they’re cutting off people in need of urgent care, children going to school and hardworking families.

“The rail industry is facing serious financial challenges and is in desperate need of vital reforms to address them. We once again urge union leaders to work with employers and come to an agreement which is fair for passengers, taxpayers and workers alike .”

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