Bath cafe forced to cut staff amid ongoing rail strikes

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The manager of a cafe in Bath has warned upcoming rail strikes will leave the business facing an uncertain future.

Cafe Au Lait has had to cut staff due to a drop-off in trade whenever railway workers take industrial action in their dispute with train operators.

It's located directly across from Bath Spa railway station and serves commuters and tourists coming into the city. But more than fourteen months on since strikes began, cafe staff are beginning to struggle.

Assistant manager Bethany Dingle said: "When the rail strikes are on, it is just completely dead, which is just really different. The days that it is busy and the days there are rail strikes, you can really notice the difference.

"It's definitely really affected our finances, as an an independent business, we fund everything ourselves and we have just noticed that we've been losing out on money a lot.

"So, we've had to you know, make cuts to staff and other things like that and it is just a bit of a shame."

Bethany expressed her concerns after the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) announced further strike action.

When are the next rail strikes?

CrossCountry rail workers who are members of the RMT will be going on strike tomorrow (Saturday 19 August), and on the following three Saturdays.

This will have an impact on train services serving Bristol, Western-super-Mare and Taunton, as well as stations across Devon and Cornwall, including Plymouth, Paignton and Penzance.

While Cafe Au Lait will not be affected by the strikes tomorrow, it will be impacted by wider multiple operator strikes on Saturday 26 August and Saturday 2 September.

This industrial action will see disruption to services operated by Great Western Railway (GWR) and South Western Railway.

Cafe Au Lait: 'We're not sure what to expect in the coming months'

Bethany is not so concerned about the cafe's short-term future but is worried that if the strikes do not end soon, it's future is uncertain.

She said: "Further down the line, I don't know what could happen, just because it's been going on for so long and there's no resolution on the horizon. So, we're not sure what to expect in the coming months."

Campaigners are also angry about proposals to close around one thousand train station ticket offices across England and held a protest outside of Bath Spa station this week.

David Redgewell, a trustee of the Bristol Disability Equality Forum, warned the plans would hit those with a disability the hardest.

A small number of protestors gathered to campaign against proposals to close around one thousand ticket offices in England.

He said: "Many stations, the people who issue the tickets also help disabled people on and off the trains. They open up the disabled toilets and they look after the booking offices."

David added: "What people must do is they must complain to their MPs [and] their councillors. This is not acceptable."

The protestors handed flyers out to passengers, urging them to have their say in a consultation on the proposals, which is open until 1 September.

But this issue is just the latest twist in the long story of disruption for rail travel since the RMT first began strike action in June 2022.

GWR: 'The RMT isn't being realistic about what their members want'

While many customers have become frustrated at GWR for repeatedly running a reduce service due to strikes, the operator blames the unions for refusing to settle the dispute.

Paul Gentleman, a spokesperson for the company, said: "The RMT negotiating team has negotiated with the train operators and three deals have been formulated. But none of these three deals have actually been put to the members.

"So, I don't think the RMT are necessarily being realistic about what their members are actually feeling and what their members want."

RMT: 'Our members don't want attacks on ticket officers and jobs included in a deal'

But the union has accused the government of trying to attach unfair cuts and conditions to any pay deal.

RMT organiser Brendon Kelly said: "The RMT is in constant consultation with our members and representatives. When we get a fair deal, we will put it to our members, but our members have told us three times now in ballots for industrial action they want the action to continue.

Staff at the Cafe Au Lait warns it will be small businesses like them who suffer most from the train strikes.

Brendon added: "They don't want all the terms and conditions and the attacks on ticket offices and jobs that the deal offers. And that's what the pay deal offers: it's a 5% pay offer but it's completely attached to all these conditions."

The Department for Transport has said it has met with the unions and believes the existing offers are fair and reasonable. It says they should be put to the union's members to vote on.

The CrossCountry strike is due to go ahead tomorrow, while strikes over the following two weekends are also set to go ahead. But Bethany has warned it will be her and the staff at Cafe du Lait who will end up suffering if this dispute is not resolved.