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Rail strikes: Passengers warned of disruption this weekend as ASLEF walkouts begin | UK News

ASLEF’s train drivers are staging a series of strikes this weekend, marking the start of major disruption over the next week.

Union members at East Midlands Railway and LNER will walk out on Saturday, followed by drivers on four other lines on Sunday.

A total of 15 train operating companies will be affected by strike action between today and Friday 8 December after ASLEF members voted to continue taking industrial action for the next six months.

The strike days are amplified by a union-wide overtime ban which started on Friday and will run until Saturday 9 December.

Full list of dates in December 2023 and rail lines affected

East Midlands Railway said it will not operate services on any of its routes on Saturday, while the overtime ban may cause some late notice cancellations and changes to train times.

Passengers are advised to check before travelling.

LNER is running a reduced timetable between Edinburgh and London and Leeds and London on Saturday.

There will also be no trains to or from London King’s Cross on Sunday due to planned engineering work.

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ASLEF boss: We have no choice

An LNER statement said bus replacements would be in place on Sunday but warned they would have “extremely limited availability and will take considerably longer [approximately 120 minutes].”

Strikes on Sunday will affect Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern Thameslink and West Midlands Trains, while more strikes against other operators will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week.

They come days after members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted overwhelmingly to accept a deal to end their long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, has criticised ASLEF for not following RMT’s approach and putting the latest pay offer to its members, which it says would take average driver salaries from £60,000 to nearly £65,000.

File photo dated 03/06/2023 of members of the Aslef union on a picket line near to Leeds train station. Rail passengers are being warned to expect disruption over the next week because of strikes and an overtime ban by train drivers in their long-running dispute over pay. Members of Aslef at 16 train operating companies will refuse to work overtime from Friday until December 9 and will stage a series of strikes between December 2 and 8. Issue date: Friday December 1, 2023.
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An ASLEF picket line in Leeds

ASLEF’s general secretary Mick Whelan said he has not had any talks with employers since April and has not met Transport Secretary Mark Harper since last December.

“We are in this for the long haul,” he said.

“Our members, who have not had a pay rise for nearly five years now, are determined that the train companies and the Tory government that stands behind them do the right thing.

“The cost of living has soared since the spring and summer of 2019, when these pay deals ran out.

“The bosses at the train companies – as well as Tory MPs and government ministers – have had increases in pay. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect our members to work just as hard for what, in real terms, is considerably less.

“These are key workers who kept the country moving throughout the pandemic. They are simply asking for a fair and decent deal.”

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An RDG spokesperson said: “This unnecessary and avoidable industry action called by the ASLEF leadership has been targeted to disrupt customers and businesses ahead of the vital festive period.

“It will also inflict further damage on an industry that is receiving up to an additional £175m a month in taxpayer cash to keep services running, following the COVID downturn.”

Rail minister Huw Merriman said: “Following RMT members voting to overwhelmingly accept the train operators’ pay offer, ASLEF is now not just the only rail union still striking but the only union not to even put an offer to its members.

“They are instead choosing to cause more misery for passengers and the hospitality sector this festive period.”

“The fair and reasonable offer that’s long been on the table would bring the average train driver’s salary up to £65,000 for a 35-hour, four-day week,” Mr Merriman added.

“ASLEF’s leadership should follow in the footsteps of all the other rail unions by doing the right thing and giving their members a say on that offer.”

Passengers who still intend to travel on days affected by strikes and overtime bans have been encouraged to check the National Rail’s journey planner before setting off.

NHS strikes: Hospital boss says preparing for winter amid walkouts ‘like going into battle with one hand behind your back’ | UK News

The chief executive of a busy NHS Hospital Trust has described preparing for winter amid ongoing industrial action by consultants and junior doctors as “going into a really tough battle with one hand tied behind your back”.

Matthew Trainer, CEO of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, was speaking exclusively to Sky News on the first day of an unprecedented joint action by consultants and their junior doctor colleagues.

He said: “I think we’ve cancelled more than 10,000 outpatient appointments here. We’ve cancelled more than a thousand non-urgent surgeries and a small number of urgent surgeries.

“What we’re increasingly seeing is actually we’re not cancelling things, because we’re not even booking stuff in any more for the strike days.

“It feels like we’re walking into a really tough battle with one hand tied behind our back.”

Mr Trainer, who has 12 hospitals under his care including the Queen’s Hospital in Essex and the King George Hospital in Ilford, said his patients and his staff were suffering because of the industrial action by NHS health workers. which is now in its 10th month.

He said: “It’s about the patients who are not getting access to the care that they need. And the second thing, it’s about the staff that we’re asking, at times, to work in some really tough circumstances.

“I regularly meet our emergency department teams because they tend to bear the brunt of it. Emergency departments are the last unrationed part of health care, they’re the only place you can walk into and guarantee someone will see you. And as a result, we’re seeing real pressures piled on to them.”

Some 900,000 NHS appointments have been cancelled across England since December last year.

Matthew Trainer
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Matthew Trainer has 12 hospitals under his care

Hospitals now routinely do not book appointments for strike days, with the dates announced at least six weeks in advance. That means the true figure of disruption to elective care is likely to be much higher.

Mr Trainer added: “I think one thing that worries me is actually that we’re finding the strikes less difficult to cope with because we’re becoming so practised at them.

“The NHS is good at crisis management and responding to incidents. Actually, we now know how to stand up a strike rota. We know to take down all the planned care activity. This shouldn’t be something we’re used to doing.

“You know, this should remain a real outlier for us, to have cancelled 10,000 outpatient appointments since April is not normal. And we should not become accustomed to this as a way of doing business in healthcare.”

But this is likely to be the case for months to come, deep into another crippling winter.

Read more from Sky News:
NHS England waiting list hits record high
Health secretary attacks ‘increasing militancy’ of strikes
Thousands of Tube workers to go on strike

Hospital

The junior doctors and consultants have long mandates for strike action and show no sign of calling them off.

Their union, the BMA, will feel vindicated in its action after learning that the public is more than twice as likely to blame the government for the ongoing strikes than the doctors’ trade unions, by 45% compared to 21%, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Sky News.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made bringing down waiting lists one of his key pledges.

But that is not achievable unless there is a resolution to what is becoming an increasingly bitter and protracted dispute. It also means trusts are not able to prepare for the fast-approaching winter.

Mr Trainer continued: “We had a really tough winter, last year. January was as bad as I’ve ever seen it in terms of the pressures. Primary care is also seeing huge increases in demand.

“They’re seeing more people than ever before, but they can’t keep up with the demand, and mental health services are also dealing with enormous backlogs for care and emergency care.

“So we’re trying to get ourselves ready for that. But what we know at the minute is that unless there’s some kind of resolution to this, we’re going to have to deal with that regular disruption of strike action.

“And I think we’re getting to a position now where it’s making it very hard to plan for what’s going to be the toughest period of the year in the NHS.

“We’ve got clinical staff trying to deliver good quality health care in some really challenging environments at the minute. And this is just adding to the strain they’re feeling and adding to the pressures on the NHS.”

Teacher strikes: More walkouts loom as unions vow to coordinate action in autumn | UK News

Every state school in England could face more strikes in the autumn, after teaching unions vowed to coordinate walkouts if they go ahead.

The move means 400,000 members from the National Education Union (NEU), Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT and Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) could trigger widespread disruption as part of the long-running dispute over pay.

However, only the NEU currently holds a mandate to strike, with members set to take action on Tuesday. It will re-ballot its members over summer over whether to continue walkouts.

NAHT and the NASUWT teaching union both failed to make the 50% threshold in its latest balloting, and will ask members again ahead of the autumn term.

The ASCL will also ballot its members – the first time in its history.

Asked about the impact of possible co-ordinated strike action at the NAHT’s annual conference in Telford, Mr Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “I think with our four unions you would find that every state school in England would be affected by the dispute and that would put you up at 300,000-400,000 teachers… involved in taking the action, I would have thought.

“We don’t want to take it. We want to find a solution. But with all four of us acting together I think we will all pass the government’s undemocratic thresholds and so it would be an enormous response from our members.

“We would sincerely apologise to parents for disrupting their children’s education if we’re pushed to that. And we would sincerely apologise to them for disrupting their home and their working lives. However, what we are seeing is disruption in children’s education every week of the school year.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, told the conference: “I have been around a decade and I have never seen the co-ordination that we are seeing here.”

The latest move from teaching unions comes after the government offered teachers a £1,000 one-off payment for this year, as well as a 4.5% pay rise for next year.

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Schools to face co-ordinated strikes

Read more:
When and why NEU members are striking, school closures and how your child is affected
GMB union votes to accept NHS pay offer after Unite rejects government deal

All four unions rejected the offer.

A decision on pay for education staff has been given to the independent School Teachers’ Review Body.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “For unions to co-ordinate strike action with the aim of causing maximum disruption to schools is unreasonable and disproportionate, especially given the impact the pandemic has already had on their learning.

“Children’s education has always been our absolute priority, and they should be in classrooms where they belong.

“We have made a fair and reasonable teacher pay offer to the unions, which recognises teachers’ hard work and commitment as well as delivering an additional £2bn in funding for schools, which they asked for.”

Ambulance strikes: Grant Shapps concerned walk-outs ‘will put lives at risk’ | Politics News

Grant Shapps has said he is concerned ambulance strikes tomorrow will put lives at risk.

The business secretary criticised ambulance unions for failing to provide details of where they will be striking to the government so they can ensure the Army can cover them.

As part of the biggest day of NHS industrial action ever, ambulance crews and call handlers will join nurses across England in a coordinated walkout for the first time on 6 February.

Read more: Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?

Mr Shapps praised the nurses’ union for telling the government where they are striking and for ensuring emergency cover is in place but said ambulance unions have not done the same.

Asked if lives will be put at risk, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I am concerned that it does, if you have a situation which has been happening so far where you don’t have co-operation between the back-up services – typically the Army – and the people who are striking.

“We have seen the situation where the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) very responsibly, before the strikes, told the NHS ‘This is where we are going to be striking’ and they are able to put the emergency cover in place.

“Unfortunately we have been seeing a situation with the ambulance unions where they refuse to provide that information.

“That leaves the army, who are driving the back-ups here, in a very difficult position – a postcode lottery when it comes to having a heart attack or a stroke when there is a strike on.

“We cannot have that situation. That is why I am introducing laws for minimum safety levels.”

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‘Who caused the economic chaos?’ – Wrack

Minimum safety levels bill

Last month, Mr Shapps introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill to parliament which, if passed, would make it a legal requirement for key services to have a set amount of cover when they strike.

Unions and workers who did not comply would face being sued or dismissed.

Currently, police officers, members of the armed forces and some prison officers are prohibited from striking.

This new law would cover those working in health, fire and rescue, education, transport, border security, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel.

‘Rishi Sunak can make big decisions now’

Mr Shapps’ latest concern about ambulance strikes came as the head of the nurses union issued a direct appeal to Rishi Sunak to intervene in their pay dispute.

In a last-minute bid to avert tomorrow’s strikes for nurses, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said a “meaningful” pay offer from the government could do just that.

Pat Cullen (centre) joins RCN members on the picket line
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Pat Cullen (centre) joins RCN members on the picket line

In a letter to the PM, she drew a comparison to the sacking of Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi, after he was found to have breached the ministerial code in relation to his tax affairs.

“Big decisions can be made by you at any point in the week in the interests of good government,” she said, urging Mr Sunak to show his government is on the side of the “hardworking, decent taxpayer”.

“There could be no simpler way to demonstrate this commitment than bringing the nurses’ strike to a swift close.”

When are the NHS strikes this week?

Nurses will strike on 6 and 7 February as they call for better conditions and a pay rise. They want 5% above RPI inflation – but have said they would accept around 10%.

Ambulance workers will join nurses for the first day and walk out again on 10 February in a call for an inflation-matching pay rise and better conditions.

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The RCN and other NHS unions called off strikes in Wales this week after receiving a new pay offer from the Welsh government, while negotiations in Scotland are ongoing.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay called the industrial action “regrettable” and despite contingency plans, said that the strikes will “undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services”.

Christmas travel hit again by strikes as Border Force set for airport walkouts | UK News

Border Force workers across UK airports and ports will take strike action on key dates in December as their union calls for the government to come back to the negotiating table.

Strikes will take place between 23rd and 26th December, and from 28th to 31st December, impacting Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester airports, as well as the Port of Newhaven.

And the officers taking the action will be those responsible for checking the passports of people arriving into the country.

It comes amid a raft of strikes set to hit festive travel, with industrial action organised by train, bus and road workers in the run up to Christmas and throughout the holiday season.

But the pickets are not limited to transport, with teachers, nurses and ambulance workers among others from the public sector taking action over pay and conditions.

The Public and Commercial Services union said they were taking their action due to rows with the government over pay, the threat of job cuts and changes in pension rules.

They are calling for a 10% pay rise, better job security and no cuts to redundancy terms.

General secretary of the union, Mark Serwotka, said 40,000 of its members were having to use food banks, while 45,000 were claiming in work benefits

“This is a crisis,” he added. “We have tried for months to negotiate with the government and we have been ignored.

“We keep being told the government has an open door, but there is no point the door being open if there is nothing behind that door.

“The public sector have no option other than to take industrial action because our members currently are skipping meals, not being able to put the heating on at home because of the poverty they are living in.”

A Border Force officer checks passports of arrival passengers in  Terminal 2 The Queen Terminal at Heathrow Airport, which opened for the first time to the public.
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The latest round of strikes will see Border Force officers responsible for checking passports walkout

The PCS union said 86% of its 100,000 members across 124 government departments and public sector employers voted in favour of strike action, calling it “unprecedented”.

A number of pickets had already been announced by its members, including driving instructors and highways officials.

But as well as today’s addition of the Border Force strikes, the union said it would “escalate in the new year if this action doesn’t get the government to sit around the negotiating table” – pointing to further workers in immigration and the Port of Dover willing to go out.

“Our action is designed to get the government to see sense and give our members money to stop them using foodbanks, which is the least they deserve,” said Mr Serwotka.

Christmas travel warning as road workers to strike at same time as rail walkouts | UK News

Travellers have been told to brace for more Christmas chaos after road workers announced 12 days of strikes to coincide with rail walkouts.

Ground handlers at Heathrow have also said they will strike before Christmas in a dispute over pay.

In all, 350 workers employed by Menzies will walk out from 4am on 16 December for 72 hours.

Hundreds of thousands of workers across many sectors of the economy, including nurses, postal staff and ambulance employees, have announced strike action during the festive period.

National Highways employees, who operate and maintain roads in England, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January, the PCS union said.

“We know our members’ action could inconvenience travellers who plan to visit their relatives over the festive period, but our members have been placed in this situation by a government that won’t listen to its own workforce,” said the union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka.

“With the serious cost of living crisis, they deserve to be paid properly for the important work they do, keeping our roads running safe and free.”

The walkouts, which risk bringing the road network to a standstill, will coincide with planned strikes by RMT members on the railways.

The rail strikes are planned on 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 December and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.

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Strikes ‘a lot on government’s plate’

Read more: Strikes every day until Christmas – which sectors and why?

Ministers have ‘a lot on their plate’

General secretary of the RMT union Mick Lynch met government ministers earlier on Friday for discussions on averting strike action in December, and told Sky News “talks are continuing over the weekend”.

“We’ll see where we go from there,” he said.

He added that the government is taking the strikes “seriously” but there is a “lot going on in society at the minute”.

“They have a got a lot on their plate,” he said.

Disruption to postal services ahead of Christmas is likely to be an issue for some as well, with Royal Mail asking customers to post their cards and gifts earlier than usual due to the ongoing strike action by its workers.

Eurostar security staff are also due to strike on 16, 18, 22 and 23 December.

Other departments, including the Home Office, are expected to announce industrial action over the course of the next few weeks.