Train strikes resume despite hopes of breakthrough

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Train services around Britain will be severely disrupted once more as national strikes resume on Friday, despite another union accepting Network Rail’s pay deal.

Passengers have been advised to only attempt to travel by train if necessary as this week’s second 48-hour strike by members of the RMT union begins, with three more weeks of disruption to follow.

Train operators said passengers should plan ahead and check with operators for the latest information, with about 20% of normal services running between 7.30am and 6.30pm on both Friday and Saturday.

Motorists in parts of England could also potentially face worsened disruption, with the first of 12 days of rolling regional strikes by members of the PCS union at National Highways also starting on Friday.

Although no roads will be closed, any major incident could result in longer delays with fewer control room staff or traffic officers available.

Strikes planned by baggage handlers at Heathrow for Friday were called off, however, on Thursday afternoon after last-ditch talks between Unite and Menzies Aviation. The union will now put the deal, which is believed to be in the region of a 10.5% increase, to a ballot, with further strikes due after Christmas should it be rejected.

RMT members who are security staff at Eurostar had been due to strike on Friday and Sunday, but the action was called off on Wednesday for a vote on the latest pay offer from the employer Mitie. If it is rejected, strikes on 22 and 23 December will still go ahead.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the long-running rail dispute were raised after members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) union voted to accept Network Rail’s improved pay deal in a referendum.

The union, which is much smaller than the RMT, said 85% of its members voted in favour of the offer, which includes a minimum 9% pay rise by January, job security to 2025 and guarantees on terms and conditions.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said the news showed the tide was turning, adding: “It is clear to everyone that this offer is fair and reasonable, giving better pay to workers but delivering vital reforms to our railways.”

The Network Rail chief executive, Andrew Haines, said: “We know there is a sizeable number of RMT members who want this deal and we can see that strike action is beginning to break down.”

The RMT rejected the same offer, a two-year deal covering the missed January 2022 pay rise and 2023, last week.

The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, again met the rail minister, Huw Merriman, and industry leaders on Thursday afternoon, after the government said it wanted to facilitate a resolution, although it insists pay and conditions are a matter for railway employers.

Unions say they are even further away from a deal with train operating companies, with RMT strikes at the 14 English operators contracted to the DfT on Friday, and the TSSA also continuing limited industrial action.

The RMT’s overtime ban at train operators also remains due to start on Sunday and runs until the next week of strikes in early January.

South Western Railway, one of the UK’s biggest commuter networks, has now followed Chiltern in saying that it will be operating a severely reduced service because of the overtime ban, with trains only running between the hours of 7am-10pm until January.

Strikes were partly blamed for slumping shopper numbers this week, although cold winter weather played a part. Figures from Springboard showed overall retail footfall decline by 8.6% from Monday to Wednesday compared with last week, and by 17% on strike days on high streets.

Source: The Guardian

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