Railway union calls for ‘biggest strike in modern history’ Business

Passengers face a summer of rail chaos as union leaders prepare a wave of strikes involving up to 40,000 workers on Britain’s rail network.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has announced plans for the ‘biggest strike in modern history’ amid a row over job cuts and wage freezes.

More than 40,000 railway workers must vote for industrial action, the RMT announced on Wednesday. A ballot will open on April 26 and close a month later. Industrial action could begin in June.

Network Rail, the state-backed owner of stations and tracks, plans to cut more than 2,500 frontline maintenance workers, the union said.

Meanwhile, rail operators have imposed wage freezes despite public sector workers receiving an inflationary raise in April.

Frontline rail staff have avoided being furloughed – and an associated 20% pay cut – during the pandemic, in stark comparison to many other industries.

Ministers have ordered a pay freeze for all railway workers in 2021. This year, however, Network Rail staff are said to have received an inflationary raise. But many employees employed by private rail operators did not.

With passenger demand returning to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, the wider rail industry needs to find around £3bn in annual savings to balance the books and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Maintaining rail services during the pandemic has cost the Treasury more than £15billion.

Network Rail Regional Director Tim Shoveller said: “Our railway has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and although passenger numbers are starting to recover, we know that travel habits and the passenger demand has changed and the industry must also change. We cannot continue to rely on government handouts, so we must work with rail operators and our unions to save millions of pounds and deliver a more efficient railway.

“Our modernization program aims to build a sustainable future that benefits passengers and creates better and safer jobs for our employees. We would not consider any changes that would make the railway less safe. We are disappointed that the RMT has made this decision and again urge them to work with us, not against us, as we build an affordable and future-proof railway.

Strikes by the RMT, known for its militant stance on industrial relations, have crippled the Southern and Thameslink networks for years in a row over whether guards had to press a button to open doors or not .

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has made no secret that he would oppose forced redundancies in the past.

He said: “The cut of 2,500 safety-critical Network Rail jobs will spell disaster for the public, make accidents more likely and increase the possibility of trains running off the tracks.

“Railway operating companies have praised our members for being key workers during the pandemic, but have refused to keep staff pay in line with inflation and the soaring cost of living.”

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This notice was published: 2022-04-20 11:24:18

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