UK braces for rail paralysis: Commuters face first day of strike chaos


UK braces for rail paralysis: Militant unions dig in their heels and threaten to continue action until CHRISTMAS with more crunch talks today – as week-long walkout looms from midnight

  • RMT Union says it now has a mandate to strike regularly until Christmas – with just fortnight’s notice each time
  • Boris Johnson blasted for failing to carry through promise for ‘minimum service’ on railways in strikes 
  • Trade unions are threatening walkouts this summer with teachers and NHS staff also set to ballot
  • Local government workers, including binmen, could join strike action as they demand giant pay rises
  • Inflation is now sitting at more than 9 per cent and may hit 11 per cent in autumn. Unions want pay to match 

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Commuters were urged to stay at home today ahead of the worst shutdown of Britain’s railways for 30 years this week as militant unions threatened to strike up until Christmas.

Millions of people will be forced to work from home or battle into work on foot, bike or in rammed buses due to the three days of strikes that run tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday. The strike has been designed so there will also be severe disruption for on non-strike days too, causing six days of chaos. 

Many of Britain’s railway companies will run emergency timetables today and Transport for Wales has warned people should ‘only travel by rail if necessary’ on Monday with trains from Scotland to London disrupted from 7pm and the Heathrow Express shutting down from 11pm.

The RMT Union claims it now has a ‘mandate’ for six months of industrial action – potentially at just a fortnight’s notice each time – after boss Mick Lynch rejected a two per cent pay rise for his 40,000 members who walkout later.

Rail bosses have also admitted that they believe they are in a war of ‘attrition’ that will last months and will hit millions of people and cost the economy up to £100million at a time when the country faces a cost of living crisis and a potential recession. They may offer bonuses to any staff who cross picket lines to do their jobs.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to bring in reforms to curb rail strikes that he promised in 2019.  The Government has failed to keep its manifesto pledge and bring in legislation that will ensure a minimum train service of around 30% during strikes, which is already mandatory in France and Spain.

More than 40,000 RMT rail workers will walk out from tomorrow with tens of thousands of other union members in actions that will cripple much of the UK’s transport infrastructure with disruption to last six days.

450,000 teachers are ready to strike if they don’t like a pay offer from Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi due on Wednesday, with the National Education Union declaring they are ready to ballot staff.

Christina McAnea, the head of Unison, the country’s biggest union representing much of the NHS, said last night that the Government must make a ‘sensible pay award… or risk a potential dispute’.

The RMT will set out its next strike plans by the end of the week, with industrial action to disrupt the start of the summer holidays in late July being mooted. An union source told the Telegraph: ‘We have a mandate for strike action for six months. The National Executive Committee will decide what to do next. They will only meet after this week and then need to give the employers two weeks’ notice.’

Britain’s unions have vowed to bring the country to a standstill in a ‘summer of discontent’ not seen since the 1926 General Strike with railway and Tube workers set to be bolstered by 155,000 comrades at airports, Royal Mail and BT. More than 1million council workers and teachers could strike in the Autumn.

Commuters at Waterloo Station ahead of national rail strikes that begin tomorrow but have already began to hurt millions of commuters

Commuters at Waterloo Station ahead of national rail strikes that begin tomorrow but have already began to hurt millions of commuters

The scale of strikes has not been seen for decades and are already set to last for months

The scale of strikes has not been seen for decades and are already set to last for months

Mick Lynch, Secretary-General of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers speaks at a trades union organised protest march opposed to British government policies at Parliament Square in London on Saturday

Mick Lynch, Secretary-General of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers speaks at a trades union organised protest march opposed to British government policies at Parliament Square in London on Saturday

End of the line for ticket offices? Passengers would have to book train trips online under new plan that could see closure of every booth in the country 

Every railway ticket office in England could close under plans to save £500million a year, it was reported yesterday.

Passengers would have to book online under proposals by the industry to ‘repurpose’ the country’s 980 remaining offices.

This would badly affect millions of elderly, disabled and disadvantaged passengers, warned the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association.

The union said it was seeking an urgent meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over the report and previous rumours about closures. General secretary Manuel Cortes said losing ticket offices ‘will simply make more members vote for strike action’. 

Last week Mr Shapps said that one in eight train tickets are sold over the counter.

In response to The Sunday Times report, the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said no decision had been taken on ticket offices.

A spokesman added ‘many jobs will need to change to become more passenger-centric’ as travel and buying patterns change.

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, added: ‘Many more [older people] lack an up-to-date smartphone or tablet, or live in a place with unreliable broadband.

‘These people have relied on buying tickets face-to-face or over the phone and then collecting them from a station machine. What are they expected to do if everything goes online?’

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Other trade unions are threatening walkouts this summer which could see action from teachers, NHS staff, barristers, postmen and more.

With services slashed to 20 per cent of their normal frequency, some locations have been cut off entirely and passengers warned not to travel unless their journeys are absolutely necessary, with the national network likely to be paralysed by walkouts.

Up to 1.5million workers are being balloted over strike action on a level not seen since the Winter of Discontent in the late 1970s.

Sir Keir Starmer yesterday again failed to condemn rail strikes that will cause chaos this week and cost businesses hundreds of millions of pounds.

‘The plan by unions to bring Britain to a standstill by holding strikes across swathes of the economy and our public services is deeply selfish,’ said Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden.

‘Hard-pressed families and businesses will suffer extra costs and disruption caused by these unnecessary strikes.’

Lord Blunkett, the Labour former home secretary, urged union bosses to ‘stop pretending they are in the 1970s or 1980s’.

Last night, senior rail sources said that agency workers are not going to be the ‘silver bullet’ many are hoping for to help stop the disruptive strikes.

The rail and Tube strikes are likely to cost the economy at least £91million in staff absences alone, according to analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). They calculated that 0.8 per cent of staff – more than 250,000 people – will not be able to get to work. 

They said that while the industry would welcome plans for agency workers to cover gaps in the workforce, it would ‘only prove useful’ in the ‘less skilled parts’ of railway companies.

The source told The Times: ‘It takes a year to train someone as a signaller. In the same way you can’t just put an agency worker in the cab of a train, it’s not a silver bullet by any measure.’ 

Two teaching unions with a combined membership of around 750,000 yesterday became the latest to warn of walkouts unless salaries go up.

And half a million Health Service staff could strike over their pay offer.

Commuters will not be the only ones facing chaos this week, as doctors, nurses, workers in the civil service and local governments, postal workers, traffic wardens and BT engineers are said to be considering joining strike ballots. 

RMT union boss Mick Lynch yesterday suggested the rail strikes could stretch into the autumn, warning: ‘There are going to be many unions balloting across the country, because people can’t take it anymore.’

Unison members and members of the public take part in a TUC national demonstration in central London to demand action on the cost of living, a new deal for working people and a pay rise for all workers. Picture date: Saturday June 18, 2022

Unison members and members of the public take part in a TUC national demonstration in central London to demand action on the cost of living, a new deal for working people and a pay rise for all workers. Picture date: Saturday June 18, 2022

Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said Labour’s failure to condemn the strikes showed it was in hock to the unions.

He added: ‘Now they want to take us back to the 1970s and bring this country to a standstill. Many people still remember the Winter of Discontent, 25 per cent inflation, sky-high interest rates, IMF bailouts, three-day weeks and rubbish on the streets.

‘We must tackle this head on and show that the British people will not be held to ransom.’

The NASUWT teaching union said yesterday that its 300,000 members would be balloted unless the Government backed demands for a 12 per cent pay rise.

General secretary Patrick Roach said Britain faced an ‘existential emergency for the future of the teaching profession’ because of the cost-of-living crisis coupled with ‘real-terms pay cuts’.

He added: ‘The Government wrongly assumed teachers would simply stand by as they erode pay and strip our education system to the bone. If a pay rise is not awarded, it will be won by our members in workplaces through industrial action.’

The National Education Union will also prepare to ballot its 460,000 members – ranging from teachers and lecturers to support staff – unless an acceptable pay rise is offered in line with inflation.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: ‘If there is no significant improvement on 3 per cent – which will leave an 8 per cent gap with inflation this year alone – we cannot avoid a ballot. The mood among teachers has changed.

‘Last year the issue was mainly workload. This year it is workload and pay.’

Unison, the country’s biggest union, has indicated half a million members could strike over the upcoming NHS pay offer, which is expected in June, if it falls short of the 9.2 per cent rate of inflation.

The NHS walkout would likely see thousands of appointments and operations missed because patients will be unable to get to hospitals and surgeries.

National medical director of NHS England, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said it was ‘vital’ that people sought appointments and treatment despite the disruption.

General secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘The Government has a simple choice. Either it makes a sensible pay award, investing in staff and services and reducing delays for patients or it risks a potential dispute, growing workforce shortages and increased suffering for the sick.’

The British Medication Association has also said it would ballot members over junior doctors’ pay. And the railways could be hit by further strikes in the summer holidays after the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association served notice to ballot hundreds of workers at Southeastern and Great Western Railway over demands for no compulsory redundancies and a pay rise.

Some 115,000 Royal Mail workers are set to be balloted by the Communication Workers Union in another dispute over pay.

Royal Mail announced last week that staff would receive a 2 per cent pay rise but CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger said it was ‘nowhere near acceptable’.

The rail strikes will also directly affect pupils, who are taking their GCSEs and A-levels this week, which rely on trains to get them to school.

On Tuesday, teenagers sitting GCSE history or dance, or A-level German, religious studies, or maths could be hit. Those taking A-level chemistry or GCSE physics on Thursday could also be affected.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which has around 180,000 members in the Civil Service, will also vote in September over possible action over its demand for a 10 per cent pay rise. Barristers are voting on whether to strike over legal aid rates, with a decision due today.

Lord Blunkett last night warned the unions that mass walkouts would be counter-productive. ‘The one way to lose all support and ensure the re-election of Boris Johnson is to fall into the elephant trap,’ he said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will table legislation as early as this week to let businesses recruit temporary staff during walkouts, a practice that is currently banned.

And the walkouts are also expected to cause misery for music and spots fans, with Glastonbury Festival, which will see 200,000 revellers return to Somerset for the first time in three years, will

Many festival-goers typically take the train to the nearest station at Castle Cary before catching a bus to the festival site.

While Great Western Railway said it planned to keep some trains running between the station and London Paddington during the festival, it has warned the times of some services might change.

Coach firm National Express said it had seen ‘a significant increase in both inquiries and bookings’ as people opt to travel with it, and warned of heavy traffic around the festival site.

Who else is set to join the summer strike contagion? 

Strikes could spread across the economy in the coming months. These are the areas affected – and those which could be hit – and the unions behind the ballots.

TRANSPORT

Strikes by the RMT across three days this week will close half of the country’s rail network and reduce service to a fifth of normal levels.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) is also balloting thousands of staff at Network Rail and several train companies, with the possibility of strikes as soon as July.

The train drivers’ union Aslef is set to strike at Greater Anglia and the Croydon Tramlink in the coming weeks.

Unite is also balloting about 500 British Airways check-in staff at Heathrow over a refusal to reverse a 10 per cent pandemic pay cut. If workers vote in favour, strikes are likely in July – potentially ruining some summer holidays.

EDUCATION

Teachers’ union NAS/UWT will ballot members over action unless the Government backs demands for a 12 per cent pay rise. A pay award for 2022/23 is due in November.

The National Education Union has said it will ballot its 460,000 members if a pay rise in line with inflation is not offered by the Government.

HEALTHCARE

Unison, which represents NHS staff, has said strikes are possible unless the annual pay offer for them is not close to the rate of inflation. The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, has also said it will prepare for a ballot unless junior doctors are given a 22 per cent ‘restorative’ pay rise.

The Royal College of Nursing has also demanded a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation.

CIVIL SERVICE

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil service workers, will hold a ballot in September over pay, pensions and redundancies.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The Unison, GMB and Unite unions have said local government staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should receive a pay increase of at least £2,000 each. Workers include rubbish collectors, library staff, teaching assistants and care workers.

Unite said it will support ‘any action’ by workers to achieve a pay rise.

LAW 

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents barristers, is balloting members over legal aid rates which could result in walk-outs.

COMMUNICATIONS

The Communication Workers Union will ballot Royal Mail workers in a dispute over a pay rise offer of 2 per cent.

The union has also sent ballot papers to BT workers including engineers, contact centre staff and retail employees over pay. It could result in the first strike at the company since it was privatised in the mid-1980s.

PARKING WARDENS 

For some commuters hit by rising fuel costs and rail strikes, it is the glimmer of a silver lining.

This month traffic wardens will start a seven-day strike in protest at pay cuts and ‘fire and rehire’ tactics.

The walkout in Wiltshire means penalty charge notices will not be issued and charges in council car parks will not be enforced, costing £30,000 in revenue.

The action by the GMB from June 30 to July 6 follows two days of strikes in the county in May.

The union is opposing a pay cut of 10 per cent, or £2,000 a year, for traffic wardens, and said members were ‘at the end of their tether’.

Wiltshire Council is seeking to save £800,000 annually by ending contractual unsocial hours payments for almost 350 staff, including social workers and care workers.

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Will rail strikes wreck your week? From hospitals and holidays, to glamping and Glastonbury… how the walkouts will bite across the country

Britain is braced for a week of chaos as the biggest rail strike in a generation looks likely to paralyse the national network. 

With services slashed to 20 per cent of their normal frequency, some places cut off entirely and passengers warned not to travel unless their journeys are absolutely necessary, here is how the walkouts are set to cripple different sectors.

NHS

Thousands of appointments and operations are likely to be missed because patients will be unable to get to hospitals and surgeries.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said it was ‘vital’ that people sought appointments and treatment despite the disruption.

‘I am urging those who have appointments booked in to plan ahead and look at alternative options for getting to their GP practice or hospital if needed,’ he said.

Thousands of appointments and operations are likely to be missed because of next week's rail strikes

Thousands of appointments and operations are likely to be missed because of next week’s rail strikes

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the walkouts will ‘put patients at risk’ as doctors, nurses and other frontline staff struggle to get to work.

One senior NHS leader warned the strikes ‘will probably end up killing people because they’ll prevent ambulance trust staff getting to work’.

The strikes are expected to hit London hospitals especially hard, as many have limited parking capacity for patients who decide to drive to appointments.

Both London Ambulance Service Trust and South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust have moved to the highest level of alert, which shows they are under extreme pressure.

Schools

Families of pupils sitting GCSEs and A-levels who usually rely on trains to get them to school have been urged to find travel arrangements for this week.

On Tuesday, those teenagers who are sitting GCSE history or dance, or A-level German, religious studies or maths could be hit. 

On Thursday, those who will be taking A-level chemistry or GCSE physics papers may be affected.

Students sitting GCSE history or dance, or A-level German, religious studies or maths could be affected by the strike action

Students sitting GCSE history or dance, or A-level German, religious studies or maths could be affected by the strike action

A total of 17 GCSE and 22 A-level papers could be disrupted by the strikes.

Schools will be allowed to begin exams up to 30 minutes late or relocate them to mitigate against disruption, according to guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the UK’s biggest exam boards.

Julie McCulloch, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said while most pupils lived near schools and typically travelled by bus, it was important that families made ‘alternative arrangements’ for those reliant on trains.

She urged pupils worried about how they would attend exams to talk to their school to discuss their options.

Economy

The rail and Tube strikes are likely to cost the economy at least £91million in staff absences alone, according to analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). 

The CEBR calculated that 0.8 per cent of staff – more than 250,000 people – will not be able to get to work.

It estimates that almost half the £91million – £45.1million – will be incurred tomorrow, given the greater number of commuters then and the separate London Underground strikes.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pictured during a press conference in Downing Street last month

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pictured during a press conference in Downing Street last month

On Thursday, output losses are estimated at £26.3million, while on Saturday, they are expected to be £19.6million.

The capital is set to face the largest hit, with a loss to the economy of £52million, it found.

Other estimates suggest the cost to the UK economy overall could be as much as £450million.

Major events

The walkouts are expected to cause misery for music and sports fans. 

Following a three-year hiatus Glastonbury Festival returns from Wednesday, with 200,000 revellers heading to Somerset.

Many festival-goers typically take the train to the nearest station at Castle Cary before catching a bus to the festival site. 

While Great Western Railway said it planned to keep some trains running between the station and London Paddington during the festival, it has warned the times of some services might change.

Coach firm National Express said it had seen ‘a significant increase in both inquiries and bookings’ as people opt to travel with it, and warned of heavy traffic around the festival site.

Following a three-year hiatus Glastonbury Festival returns from Wednesday, but festival-goers who usually take the train to the event will be affected

Following a three-year hiatus Glastonbury Festival returns from Wednesday, but festival-goers who usually take the train to the event will be affected

Sports fans are also set to be hit for six when England plays its third Test match against New Zealand at Headingley in Leeds from June 23 to 27. 

The UK Athletics Championships run from Friday to Sunday in Manchester.

By-elections in Wakefield and in Tiverton and Honiton take place on Thursday, while Elton John and the Rolling Stones are playing gigs in London’s Hyde Park on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Nationwide events to commemorate veterans could also be disrupted as UK Armed Forces Day takes place on Saturday.

Hospitality and holidays

UK Hospitality, which represents the tourism, leisure and theatre sectors, warned the strikes could cost businesses over a billion pounds.

Footfall looks set to drop by 9.3 per cent across all retail outlets this week, with high streets due to be visited by 10 per cent fewer customers, while the figure for shopping centres will be 13 per cent down, according to the retail consultancy Springboard.

Holidaymakers hoping to travel by train to London airports are being warned to expect severe disruption and reduced timetables.

There will be no Gatwick Express services on strike days, while the Stansted Express and Heathrow Express services will run just two trains an hour, with much later first and earlier last trains.

Eurostar is running a reduced timetable next week and has cancelled 41 trains between London and Paris and Brussels and Amsterdam.

The roads

Experts have warned of a surge in congestion as commuters who usually take the train may opt to drive instead

Experts have warned of a surge in congestion as commuters who usually take the train may opt to drive instead

People who decide to drive or take the bus due to the strikes should brace themselves for a surge in congestion, experts have said.

Many of those without cars are turning to bus travel. Stagecoach, the country’s biggest bus and coach operator, said next week’s bookings for its Megabus service had increased by 85 per cent.

Main motorway arteries and roads in rural and suburban areas are likely to be the worst affected, the AA predicted, although it said it expected the impact to be ‘slightly cushioned by record fuel prices’ and some commuters working from home.

AA president Edmund King has called for all road charges to be waived on strike days to stop areas becoming ‘ghost towns’, while business minister Paul Scully urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan to suspend road charges and non-essential roadworks to help people get to work. 

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