‘I’m not the grinch’ claims RMT boss ordering MORE train strikes over Christmas as ministers are told to ‘get a grip’ on looming crisis
- Rail unions have called eight days of strikes over the Christmas period
- The RMT announced four 48-hour strikes between December 13 and January 7
- RMT boss Mick Lynch denied being ‘Mick Grinch’ when asked about strike chaos
- Government sources insisted there’s a ‘glimmering outline’ of a deal with RMT
Rail unions yesterday threw the Christmas plans of millions into chaos by calling eight days of strikes.
Ministers were urged to ‘get a grip’ on the looming crisis amid threats of coordinated walkouts with other industries.
Hospitality chiefs warned the strikes would cost them millions of pounds at what is one of the most lucrative times of year and as they recover from the pandemic.
The RMT yesterday announced four 48-hour strikes between December 13 and January 7, forcing many revellers to cancel parties and shoppers to stay at home instead. Key dates such as Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve will be hit.
Ministers have repeatedly promised to pass laws to rein in such disruptive strikes. But there is no prospect of measures coming into force until well into next year.
RMT boss Mick Lynch denied he was ‘Mick Grinch’ when confronted about the scale of misery the walkouts would inflict.
RMT boss Mick Lynch (pictured centre) denied he was ‘Mick Grinch’ when confronted about the scale of misery the walkouts would inflict
Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan (centre) at a picket line at Euston station in London, as members of the drivers’ union Aslef and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) go on strike on October 5
He said: ‘I’m not the Grinch, I’m a trade union official and I’m determined to get a deal.’
But he promised to ‘coordinate’ strike dates with other union chiefs to shut down Britain, with nurses, civil servants and postal workers having also voted in favour of walkouts. Teachers are still being balloted.
Government sources last night insisted the ‘glimmering outline’ of a deal with the RMT was emerging but insisted ministers would not be bounced into a settlement.
‘We need to get a deal that works for all taxpayers, and that includes the taxpayers that don’t use the railways,’ said one insider.
Ministers are worried about setting a precedent with significant pay rises. Rishi Sunak warned his Cabinet yesterday that Britain faced a ‘challenging’ winter of strikes, inflation and NHS backlogs. Around 400,000 people are waiting more than a year for operations, compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic.
Food prices and energy bills have soared, with inflation at a 40-year high of 11.1 per cent and warnings of possible power blackouts. Downing Street said contingency plans had been drawn up to ‘mitigate some of the challenges expected this winter, including further strike action’.
The latest RMT action will see more than 40,000 workers at Network Rail and 14 train operators walk out for 48 hours on December 13 and 14.
They will do so again just a few days later on December 16 and 17, and then on January 3 and 4 and January 6 and 7.
The latest RMT action will see more than 40,000 workers at Network Rail and 14 train operators walk out for 48 hours on December 13 and 14. Pictured: Empty platform and stationary trains at Kings Cross station in London during strikes on October 5
No more than a fifth of trains will run and vast swathes of the country – particularly rural areas – will be completely cut off. Several operators rely on workers doing overtime to run a full timetable, and a union ban on this is part of the industrial action. Some trains will also not run the day after each 48-hour strike due to shift patterns.
The RMT has already staged eight days of national walkouts in a bitter row over pay and job security that has been dragging on since June. The union called off three 24-hour walkouts at the eleventh hour earlier this month as hopes of a breakthrough grew and both sides entered ‘intensive talks’. But these stalled over the weekend, prompting the RMT’s announcement.
The union secured a fresh six-month mandate for strikes last week, meaning the walkouts could continue into next summer. It has so far snubbed a pay offer of 8 per cent over this year and next, with the deal worth up to 13 per cent for those on the lowest salaries.
Mr Lynch said at RMT HQ yesterday: ‘It’s been impossible to find a negotiated settlement when the dead hand of the Government is presiding over and blocking a resolution in these talks.’
But Tory MP Greg Smith, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘As if the earlier strikes weren’t bad enough, this is going beyond the pale at a time when businesses need the trade in a fragile economy and when it’s still term time and children need to get school.’
Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality said the strikes would ‘deal a hammer blow to hard-pressed hospitality businesses in city centres across the UK’.
Train drivers’ union Aslef has called a strike for Saturday, which will bring most of the network to a halt.
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised new laws to tackle the rail unions by forcing them to run a minimum level of services during strikes.
Sector by sector, how the strike threat is growing
By DAVID CHURCHILL
Picket line: Tube workers strike in south London
Strikes by rail and postal workers have already caused major disruption – with other unions set to follow suit.
The industrial strife is being driven by demands for wage rises that match – or exceed – sky-high inflation.
The RMT, Aslef and TSSA rail unions want pay rises for staff in line with inflation at 11.1 per cent. These demands relate to more than 60,000 workers for Network Rail, which manages signalling and tracks, and to 14 train operators covering most of the nation.
Talks with Network Rail are at an advanced stage, with a potential deal about 80 per cent agreed. It has offered a pay rise of 8 per cent over two years and no compulsory redundancies for three years, which the RMT has snubbed. However, the 14 train operators are yet to make a formal offer despite the dispute having dragged on for six months.
The RMT’s announcement yesterday means their members will have walked out 16 times since summer if the strikes go ahead. Train drivers, represented by Aslef, have also walked out and will do so again for 12 operators on Saturday.
The Royal College of Nursing wants a 17 per cent pay hike for nurses. It argues the rise is fair, pointing to analysis showing that an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen by 20 per cent in real terms since 2010.
But the Government says it would cost around £9billion to meet the demands and has announced a pay rise for NHS staff in England of at least £1,400 – equivalent to 4 per cent – for 2022-23.
This month 102 out of 215 NHS trusts voted to strike after 300,000 RCN members were balloted. No strike dates have been set yet while talks continue. Walkouts will be on a trust-by-trust basis if no deal is reached.
The Public and Commercial Services union wants a pay rise of 10 per cent for around 100,000 workers. But the Cabinet Office has rejected the demands, saying they would cost £2.4billion.
Civil servants from the Home Office, the Department for Transport and the Environment Department will begin month-long targeted strikes from the middle of next month. The industrial action threatens to cause chaos at ports, borders and all areas of transport.
It will include agencies such as Border Force and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, threatening to exacerbate long waits for documents such as passports and driving licences.
Workers from further departments will strike if the dispute isn’t settled.
The Communication Workers Union wants pay rises for 115,000 Royal Mail workers in line with inflation.
The formerly state-owned company has made an offer worth 9 per cent, including a 7 per cent salary increase over two years and a lump-sum payment of 2 per cent this year.
But the CWU has rejected it, announcing 11 days of walkouts on various dates between November 24 and Christmas Eve after balloting members. It means customers face delays with cards and presents.
TEACHERS AND LECTURERS
The three largest teaching unions – NASUWT, NEU and NAHT – are balloting more than 350,000 members on strike action. They all want pay rises for members of around 12 per cent, saying the Government’s offer of a 5 per cent increase is not good enough. Ballot results are not due until next year.
Lecturers and other staff will strike on November 24, 25 and 30 at 150 universities after the University and College Union balloted members.
The GMB union wants a 15 per cent pay rise for more than 1,150 G4S security workers who deliver cash and coins to banks and supermarkets. It has raised fears of cash shortages in the run-up to Christmas. The union has rejected G4S’s offer of a 4.5 per cent pay rise, plus bonus.