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A British rail union has said it will stage a series of 48-hour strikes during the festive season in December and January in a long-running dispute over jobs, pay, and conditions.
More than 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will strike on Dec. 13, 14, 16, and 17 and on Jan. 3, 4, 6, and 7.
There will also be an overtime ban across the railways from Dec. 18 until Jan. 2, meaning that RMT will be taking industrial action for four weeks.
Transport secretary Mark Harper will hold talks with RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch on Nov. 24 in a bid to head off the strike action, which would cause major disruptions during the Christmas and New Year period.
RMT said it has had to resort to strike action because Network Rail and the train operators failed to make improved offers on jobs, pay, and conditions.
In a statement, the union also accused the government of “directly interfering” with its attempts to reach a settlement.
Lynch, the union leader, said, “This latest round of strikes will show how important our members are to the running of this country and will send a clear message that we want a good deal on job security, pay, and conditions for our people.”
He added: “This whole process has become a farce that only the new secretary of state can resolve. When I meet him later this week, I will deliver that message.”
He said the union is “sorry to inconvenience” the public, but said people should direct their anger and frustration at the government and railway employers.
‘Progress’ in Talks
Railway employers have criticised RMT’s decision, saying there has been progress in talks with the union.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “No one can deny the precarious financial hole in which the railway finds itself. Striking makes that hole bigger and the task of finding a resolution ever more difficult.
“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.”
He said that “progress has been made over these last two weeks” and urged RMT to “return to the table with a more realistic appreciation of the situation.”
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “Further strikes, especially in the run up to Christmas, will disrupt the first normal festive season our passengers have been able to look forward to since the COVID pandemic, taking even more money out of the pockets of railway staff, and will cause huge damage to the hospitality and retail sectors dependent on this time of the year for their businesses.”
It added, “Industrial action has already cost the industry millions in lost revenue, is stalling its post-pandemic recovery, and threatening its long-term sustainability.”
A spokesman for the group urged RMT to “stay at the negotiating table” and “end a dispute that is harming passengers, the industry, and their members.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Strike action risks putting the very future of the entire industry in jeopardy. These strikes are not only damaging the economy but they’re cutting off people in need of urgent care, children going to school, and hardworking families.”
Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride said the consequences of the strikes will be “quite serious,” disrupting medical appointments as well as family reunions taking place over the festive period.
“The timing of these strikes are designed to create maximum disruption across the Christmas period,” he told TalkTV on Nov. 23.
The main opposition Labour Party said people have a right to campaign for a fair pay deal but ultimately a deal is needed.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the BBC: “We recognise people have got a right to do everything they can to campaign for a fair pay deal and they will continue to do so.
“And people have a right to withdraw their labour and to strike as part of that, and we’ll always support people’s right to be able to do that, but ultimately we need a deal in place, and that is what we’ve been calling for.”
She said she wants the government to “get its act together on this.”
Minimum Service Levels
The UK has been hit by a series of strike actions in recent months, causing serious disruptions to multiple sectors including railways, ports, and local governments.
Former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s administration said it would adopt “minimum service levels” to stop trade unions closing down transport networks during strikes.
Talking to Sky News on Nov. 23, Stride said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government remains committed to the plans, though no timetable had been set out for the legislation.
He said, “In due course, I have no doubt that will come forward and I do think it’s important, because we shouldn’t be left in a position with certain services—such as railways , where we have such an acute dependence upon them for a variety of reasons—where the plug can be pulled on the whole thing.”
PA Media contributed to this report.