Christmas rail strikes to be most disruptive in 30 years

Additional disruption aimed at wrecking Network Rail engineering work over Christmas closure

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 06 December 2022 02:40 GMT
Mick Lynch says Tory government is 'corrupting business' amid rail strike action

Train travellers’ hope of a resolution to the increasingly deep and bitter dispute on the railway were dashed on Monday evening by the RMT.

The most protracted and disruptive rail strikes since 1989 will begin on 13 December and involve industrial action on a total of 12 days, stretching into the new year.

The union’s leader, Mick Lynch, called an additional strike straddling four days over Christmas and urged his members to reject a pay offer by Network Rail.

Twenty-four hours earlier, the RMT had rejected outright a conditional pay offer from train operators of 4 per cent rises this year and next. The union said proposals from the Rail Delivery Group, representing the operators, would involve “vast changes to working practices” and “huge job losses”.

The December strikes by RMT members are expected to cause severe financial damage to retailers and hospitality businesses, especially in London, by limiting the options for shoppers and weekenders in the build-up to Christmas.

The executive committee of the main rail union spent longer considering an offer from Network Rail, the infrastructure provider, worth 5 per cent this year and 4 per cent next – with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies before 2025.

The RMT will put the proposals to members in an online referendum with a recommendation to reject them. The poll closes at noon on 12 December, hours before the next round of national strikes begin.

Mr Lynch said: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members.”

The strikes involve a series of four 48-hour stoppages – on 13-14 and 16-17 December, plus 3-4 and 6-7 January – with a new 60-hour walkout from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December.

The newest bout of industrial action will have little immediate effect on passengers, but is intended to wreck £150m of engineering projects scheduled for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

The RMT tweeted: “The latest strike dates will impact engineering work not train services.”

On Saturday Mr Lynch told the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom conference: “We’ve got to make sure that the legacy of this time is a profound change in this society.

“We’re going to fight for what we’re going to achieve, and we’re going to make anyone who stands in the way get out of the way.”

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “This response from the RMT to a significantly enhanced offer exposes their true priority – using the British public and Network Rail workers as pawns in a fight with the government.

“What use is a referendum that means that strike disruption is inevitable? At best it’s the tactic the RMT played in October by calling the strikes off at the last minute and causing immense disruption to passengers and vital freight routes.

“They are playing fast and loose with people’s Christmas plans and the new strike dates announced deliberately target vital engineering work designed to improve the railway.”

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas.

“The government has played its part by facilitating a fair and decent offer but, by instructing its members to reject it, the RMT has failed to play its part and our rail network now faces more harmful disruption rather than helpful discussion.”

At the same time as announcing the new industrial action, the RMT also said that proposed overtime bans had been called off.

Earlier Luke Chester, organising director of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said planned industrial action by members working for Network Rail had been called off while the white-collar union conducts a referendum on the deal.

He said: “This offer is the best we can achieve through negotiation, and it was undoubtedly improved because of the ballot results and strike action taken by our members, who we applaud.

“Our union is pleased that this offer provides job security and certainty for Network Rail staff through to 2025.”

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