RMT's Mick Lynch warns 'time is running out' as TSSA announces it will also launch rail strikes

Martin Stew explains why rail passengers are facing a winter of disruption

Talks were held today in a bid to reach a deal to prevent widespread rail strikes on several dates in December and January.

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.

In addition to the 48-hour strikes, which will cause widespread disruption during the Christmas period, there will also be an overtime ban across the railways from December 18 until January 2.

After a meeting with transport secretary Mark Harper last week, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch criticised the government's "lack of urgency" in trying to stop the strikes in time.

Today, rail minister Huw Merriman held further talks in the Houses of Parliament in the hope of preventing the industrial action, called over a months-long dispute over working conditions and pay.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch leaves Parliament following talks to end December's rail strikes

On his way out this afternoon, Mr Lynch held his cards close to his chest as he told reporters that talks would continue today and over the weekend.

But just hours after the meeting finished the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) announced it had served notice for strikes in a further six train operating companies and Network Rail.

The TSSA said thousands of its members - including staff who work in management, station, control, revenue protection, on-board and a variety of operational and support roles - will walk out on 17 December, and that it was actively considering further industrial action over the Christmas and New Year period.

TSSA's Friday announcement covers Cross Country, East Midlands Railway, some Network Rail staff, Southeastern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

Meanwhile, Unite confirmed its members employed by Network Rail in electric control rooms will join workers at other rail unions in taking industrial action as part of the latest planned walkouts.

Unite members will strike on six days in December and three in January.

Luke Chester, TSSA organising director, said: "Our members are fed up of being treated with contempt by employers and government alike.

"We’ve sat through hundreds of hours of talks and have moved mountains to make progress on modernisation details, staffing and jobs.

Planned rail strikes will cause widespread disruption right before Christmas. Credit: PA

"But still there is no offer in writing and nothing whatsoever on pay, despite inflation biting our members hard."

In a letter to business groups and the hospitality industry, who will be affected by the strikes, Mr Lynch said: "By this Friday more than a week will have passed since I met the Secretary of State without an offer being put on the table. Time is running out.

"We understand the impact that these rail strikes are having on your sector at this time of year, yet while you face disruption to your business at this critical time, the private rail businesses we are in dispute with will not lose a penny.

"Despite the rail companies being the employers of the staff taking strike action, the government has decided to protect these private rail businesses from being liable for any loss of revenue arising from the strikes. This also ensures that the rail companies can continue to make profits, despite the strike action. "

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When asked on his way to Parliament if the government was taking the strikes seriously, Mr Lynch told reporters: "Oh, they're definitely taking them seriously.

"But... there's an awful lot going on in society and in the economy at the minute, where you've got the health service, the education unions, the fire brigade, anyone you want to name, is going to be involved in industrial action soon."

Up to 10,000 nursing staff are set to walk out on two December dates in a dispute over pay, which has been heightened in the face of spiralling inflation.

A long list of strikes has stacked up across a number of sectors, including teachers, firefighters and Royal Mail.