Britain set for biggest rail strike in decades

Britain set for biggest rail strike in decades


Britain's railway network this week faces its biggest strike action in more than three decades.

LONDON (AFP) - Britain s railway network this week faces its biggest strike action in more than three decades in a row over pay, as soaring inflation erodes earnings, triggering fears of wider industrial action.

Last-ditch talks to avert a strike broke down Monday afternoon, meaning more than 50,000 members of rail union the RMT will walk out for three days.

RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch told reporters proposals from train operating companies and London Underground were "unacceptable".

The strikes -- on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday -- risk causing significant disruption to major events including the Glastonbury music festival.

Schools are warning that thousands of teenagers taking national exams will also be affected.

But the RMT argues the strikes are necessary as wages have failed to keep pace with inflation, which has hit a 40-year high.

Jobs are also at risk, with passenger traffic yet to fully recover after the lifting of coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Countries around the world are being hit by decades-high inflation as the Ukraine war and the easing of Covid restrictions fuel energy and food price hikes.

The strikes are the biggest dispute on Britain s railway network since 1989, according to the RMT.

RMT members on the London Underground will stage a 24-hour stoppage on Tuesday.

Rail operators, however, warn of disruption throughout the week, with lines not affected by strike action still having to reduce services.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, which looks after the country s rail tracks, called the strikes "needless" and said they would have a "damaging impact".

"We, and our train operating colleagues, are gearing up to run the best service we can for passengers and freight users next week, despite the actions of the RMT," he added.

- Strikes spread -

The strikes are likely to compound wider travel chaos, after airlines were forced to cut flights owing to staff shortages, causing long delays and frustration for passengers.

Thousands of workers were sacked in the aviation industry during the pandemic but the sector is now struggling to recruit workers as travel demand rebounds following the lifting of lockdowns.

On Monday, the Criminal Bar Association, which represents senior lawyers in England and Wales, voted to strike from next week in a row over legal aid funding.

Justice minister James Cartlidge called the walk-out "disappointing", as the court system battles significant backlogs in cases.

Four weeks of action begin on Monday and Tuesday, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike from July 18.

Teaching staff and workers in the state-run National Health Service are reportedly also mulling strike action.

And several other transport unions are balloting members over possible strike action, which could go ahead in the coming weeks.

-  Ruthless  -

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the disruption would cause "misery" and force hospital patients to cancel appointments.

Pupils sitting exams -- including his own children -- would face extra pressures through having to change their travel plans, he said.

"The RMT is punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make in order to protect our rail network," he added.

The government is under pressure to tackle inflation and rising household bills that have left many Britons struggling to make ends meet.

But Treasury minister Simon Clarke ruled out "inflation-busting pay increases" in the public sector to avoid fuelling inflation further.

The government and rail operators maintain that modernising the network is necessary as travel use changes, particularly after the pandemic.

But unions, including the RMT, say profit is being prioritised over pay, pensions and passengers, and that cuts put safety at risk.

"If there s not a settlement, we will continue our campaign," Lynch told Sky News on Sunday.

The government was being "just as ruthless as P&O but they haven t got agency workers to step in", he added, referring to the mass sacking of staff at the ferry operator earlier this year.