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Growing threat of complete rail stoppages this summer

The government’s plans to run about a fifth of normal train services during the RMT strike days this month are being threatened by action being taken by the other rail unions, and it is now possible that the system will come to a complete halt.

ASLEF has announced strikes of its driver members at Greater Anglia on 23 June, which will coincide with an RMT strike day. The white collar union TSSA is balloting its members at Avanti West Coast, and a walkout there could affect operational managers as well, who will not then be available to stand in for absent staff.

London tram drivers are staging two 48-hour strikes on 28-29 June and 13-14 July, while open access operator Hull Trains faces disruption on 26 June, when its drivers will walk out for the day. London Underground is also set to be disrupted by another strike on 21 June.

The prospect of still more disruption is growing, because ASLEF is balloting its members at nine other train operators.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘Many of our members have not had a pay rise since 2019. We will fight to maintain pay, terms and conditions, and pensions. The train companies are doing very well out of Britain’s railways with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers, and we are not going to work longer for less.’

His colleague TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes warned that it is now possible that no trains will run on some days, saying: ‘We could be seeing a summer of discontent across our railways. Make no mistake, we are preparing for all options, including coordinated strike action.’

Meanwhile, talks were held yesterday between Network Rail and the RMT but apparently without any progress, and Network Rail is expected to meet TSSA at the conciliation service Acas next week.

Before the latest talks, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch had said: ‘Rail companies are making at least £500 million a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic. This unfairness is fuelling our members’ anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.’

The government has condemned the strike plans. Boris Johnson, speaking during Prime Minister’s questions, said: ‘May I ask whether we have yet heard any condemnation from the Opposition of the RMT and its reckless and wanton strike?’

So far, Labour has not supported the strikes. Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said Labour wanted to ‘avoid strikes’, while the party’s leader Keir Starmer said he supported the right to strike but that these stoppages should not go ahead.

Ms Nandy, speaking on Good Morning Britain, added: ‘We want to avoid the strikes and we’re on the public’s side on this. We’re also on the rail workers’ side. They’re dealing with the same pressures that everyone else is, the cost of food, the cost of soaring inflation rates, taxes going up, and they’re really struggling to make ends meet.

‘They’re the people that we went out and applauded during the pandemic because they kept our services going and they’ve seen their pay in real terms attacked again and again over the last decade.’

ScotRail has reached a deal with ASLEF, and drivers’ pay is to rise by 5 per cent. Aslef added that it had ‘secured better pay for working on rest days, no compulsory redundancies for the next five years and an improved bonus scheme’. However, the Scottish network is still set to be disrupted by RMT strikes, which will affect signalling and cross-border trains, and it could also be affected by TSSA walkouts.

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