Train strikes: summer of discontent as rail stoppages planned across Britain

·3-min read
In dispute: an express train operated by East Midlands Railway (Simon Calder)
In dispute: an express train operated by East Midlands Railway (Simon Calder)

Rail passengers from London to Inverness and beyond are being hit by a series of summer train strikes – mainly involving disputes over pay freezes.

Travellers within Scotland, or seeking to travel to or from the country overnight, are worst affected.

Around six out of seven ScotRail trains will be cancelled in the latest in a series of Sunday strikes in a dispute about overtime payments. There are parallel stoppages by what the RMT union calls “ticket examiner and conductor grades members”.

The RMT says the staff “are continuing with industrial action in two disputes in their fight for pay justice and equality”.

ScotRail tweeted: “Away in London this weekend for the England v Scotland game tomorrow? For return journeys, @RMTUnion strike action means there will be no onward connections within Scotland on Sunday.”

The train operator said the strikes were expected to continue until at least 25 July. It has called the sequence of strikes “reckless and divisive”.

In a separate dispute, no overnight sleeper trains will run between London and Scotland until Sunday 27 June.

All Caledonian Sleeper trains from London Euston to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William, Glasgow and Inverness for the next week have been cancelled because of a strike over pay.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT Union, said: ”It is disgraceful that rail workers are being expected to take a major hit to their standards of living when inflation is escalating and there are widespread reports of rising wage increases across other industries and sectors.”

Serco, which runs the sleeper service on behalf of the Scottish government, said in a statement: “Whilst we remain committed to finding a resolution to avoid strike action, we appreciate the need to offer certainty to our guests, and as such we have taken the difficult decision to cancel all our services during this time.”

On Sunday 20 June, a series of eight Sunday strikes by East Midlands Railway (EMR) guards will begin.

The RMT union is staging industrial action on the issues of what it says are “inferior contracts being issued to some train guards” and Sunday working arrangements.

Mr Lynch said: “We are set for a long hot summer of Sunday strikes unless East Midlands Railway gets round the negotiating table to resolve the issue of inferior contracts being issues to some train guards and Sunday working arrangements.”

Unusually, the union is planning to set up a “negotiating table” on Sunday 20 June outside the company’s offices at Nottingham station.

“To make things easier for the company to make genuine proposals to end this dispute we will be bringing the negotiating table to them this Sunday,” said Mr Lynch.

The strikes will continue until 15 August.

East Midlands Railway said in a statement: “We are extremely disappointed the RMT has taken the decision to extend their strikes throughout the summer.

“At a time when the railway continues to benefit from taxpayer support and no one has been furloughed or lost their job, this action damages our ability to support the East Midlands recovery from the Covid pandemic and attract people back to the railway and support public transport as a whole.

“The strikes will only affect a handful of EMR Regional services and have no impact on EMR Intercity or EMR Connect services. Services to and from London are not affected.”

Ticket revenue has collapsed because of the coronavirus pandemic. At present taxpayers are funding the railways by around £1m per hour.

Last month the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said no rail worker had lost their job during the Covid crisis.

From 28 June, RMT and Unite members working for Stadler on train maintenance on the Tyne and Wear Metro in Newcastle and Sunderland will also begin a one-week strike.

A spokesperson for Nexus, which runs the network, said: “Stadler, which maintains Metro’s train fleet, has advised us that a contingency plan is in place so Metro can continue to operate during days of industrial action by its employees from the Unite and RMT unions.

“The last thing Metro and its customers need is industrial action as we start to recover from the impact of the pandemic.”

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