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Train strike action ‘solid’ and will continue until government ‘unblocks’ pay dispute, says RMT union boss Mick Lynch | UK News

Striking rail workers have vowed to continue walking out until the government “unblocks” their pay dispute on the second day in a row of cancellations.

There are 14 rail operators affected by strike action by the RMT union on Saturday – the day of the Eurovision finale in Liverpool – after a separate walkout by train drivers from ASLEF on Friday.

Both strikes have caused widespread cancellations and show no signs of stopping after the RMT rejected a 9% pay increase.

Southeastern trains in sidings at Ramsgate station in Kent, as services are disrupted due to members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) taking strike action in a long-running dispute over jobs and pensions. Picture date: Thursday March 16, 2023.

ASLEF, which was offered an 8% increase over two years, has strikes planned until 3 June – the day of the FA Cup Final.

After rejecting the most recent offer, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch called for a special summit of unions, train operators and the government in a letter to Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

He told Sky News rail bosses want unions to call off any remaining strikes before negotiating any further – but their industrial action is “solid” and “will be as long as this campaign goes on”.

“What they want us to do is call off the dispute and then go into another set of negotiations without the leverage on the table – and we simply can’t do that,” he said on Saturday. “You don’t disarm yourself half-way through a campaign.

Members of the drivers' union Aslef on the picket line at Euston station, London, during their long-running dispute over pay. Picture date: Friday May 12, 2023.
Striking ASLEF train drivers on Friday

“It’s up to the government to unblock this dispute because they are the ones who have the final say on what is proposed at the table.

“In their contracts with these companies they stipulate what the negotiating position is and what the offers are.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch (centre) and striking rail workers at London Euston
Mick Lynch (centre) said industrial action, as things stood, remained ‘solid’

Union did not put latest offer to its members

Paul Gentleman, spokesperson for Great Western Railway, whose members are on strike today, said he knows of RMT members happy with the latest offer – but the RMT has not given members a chance to vote on it.

Describing it as “disappointing” and the dispute as “toxic”, he told Sky News a separate summit is unnecessary as “existing methods” could “provide the solution”.

Labour’s shadow employment secretary Alison McGovern added that constant train strikes are hindering the UK’s economic recovery.

Read more:
Rail passengers and Eurovision fans face significant disruption in fresh strikes
Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?

But Mr Lynch said the union did not put the offer out for ballot because it did not keep up with the cost of living crisis and inflationary pressures.

“It’s not acceptable. It doesn’t meet the demands in the dispute,” he said.

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Rail strikes ‘need to end’

It comes after the government was forced to bring the operator TransPennine Express under its control following a year of widespread delays and cancellations.

TransPennine, which was also on strike on Saturday – and covers the north of England and a small part of Scotland, has been badly affected by ASLEF driver strikes.

Mr Harper said his department had “played our part but ASLEF now need to play theirs” by calling off further strikes.

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Merseyrail, which runs the trains out of Liverpool, was not on strike on Saturday, with Eurovision organisers insisting travel to the city for the final would not be disrupted.

But those not already in Liverpool for the final will be unable to get there if they were relying on connecting services run by: Avanti West Coast; c2c; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Gatwick Express; Great Northern; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; Heathrow Express; Island Line; LNER; London Northwestern Railway; Southeastern; Southern; Stansted Express; Thameslink; TransPennine Express; or West Midlands Railway.

‘I’m not the Grinch’: RMT union boss Mick Lynch defends new Christmas and New Year strikes | UK News

The boss of the rail workers’ union has insisted he’s “not the Grinch” as he announced four 48-hour strikes over the Christmas and New Year period.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said there had been no improved offer on jobs, pay and conditions, so more walkouts would go ahead.

About 40,000 staff from Network Rail and 14 train companies are set to strike.

The dates are: 13 and 14 December; 16 and 17 December; 3 and 4 January; 6 and 7 January.

It means disruption for travellers, workers, and shoppers in the run-up to Christmas – and for people returning home after the festive break.

There could also be problems on other days because the RMT said on overtime ban would run from 18 December to 2 January.

Mr Lynch told reporters he wasn’t trying to emulate the mean-tempered children’s character who famously “stole Christmas”.

“I’m not the Grinch, I’m a trade union official, and I’m determined to get a deal,” he said.

He accused the government of “directly interfering” in negotiations and said the last two weeks of talks with Network Rail had not achieved a breakthrough.

The Christmas action will be the latest in a series of rail strikes that began in June and follows RMT members last week voting to continue striking for another six months.

Train drivers who belong to the Aslef union are staging a separate strike this Saturday, hitting services run by 11 operators, including Great Western and Southeastern.

Strikes planned for the start of November were previously cancelled by the RMT after it said it would enter a fortnight of “intensive negotiations”.

But Mr Lynch said on Tuesday that a commitment from train companies to table a written offer at the end of those talks had not materialised.

A passenger looks at message boards at Birmingham New Street Station, as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) take part in a fresh strike over jobs, pay and conditions. Picture date: Wednesday July 27, 2022.
Many travellers are set to face a travel headache if the new strikes can’t be averted

Reacting to the new strikes, Network Rail’s chief negotiator stressed there was a “precarious financial hole” in the industry, which striking only made worse.

“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,” said Tim Shoveller.

“And 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 next week with a more realistic appreciation of the situation.”

The prime minister’s spokesman said the strikes risked “putting the future of the rail industry in jeopardy”, and called on the union to “come to an agreement that is fair to passengers, taxpayers, and workers”.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, said “the outline of a credible deal” had emerged in the latest talks.

However, it said the walkouts would disrupt people’s first “normal” festive season post-COVID and damage hospitality and retail businesses.

The rail strikes are perhaps the most high profile among a wave of recent industrial action. Other sectors taking or considering strikes include postal workers, nurses and civil servants.