Britain may face biggest rail strikes for decades as last-ditch talks fail

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Image Source: PTI

Passengers board a train at Hunts Cross station in Liverpool, England on Monday, June 20, 2022. Unions and UK rail companies are set to hold last-minute talks on Monday amid fading hopes of averting the country’s biggest rail strike in decades.

Peculiarities

  • Last-minute talks between the union and the railway companies failed to reach a settlement
  • As part of the strike, up to 40,000 employees could leave for three days.
  • The strike is expected to shut down much of the rail network across the country.

The UK is facing the biggest rail strike in decades after last-minute talks between the union and rail companies failed to reach an agreement on wages and job security.

Up to 40,000 cleaners, signalmen, repairmen and station workers are due to take to the streets for three days this week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The strike is expected to bring much of the rail network across the country to a standstill, and there were also strikes on the London Underground on Tuesday.

The Railway, Maritime and Transport Union called the employers’ latest proposal “unacceptable” and said “the strike scheduled for this week will continue.”

General Secretary Mick Lynch said railroad companies have “offered wage rates that are well below their respective inflation rates, on top of the wage freeze over the past few years.”

Unions are warning of a summer of strikes as soaring inflation will hit the wages of workers across the economy.

Millions of people in Britain, as in Europe, are seeing the cost of living rise.

Wages have not kept up with inflation, which has hit 9% and is projected to rise further as Russia’s war in Ukraine cuts supplies of energy and staples, including wheat.

Prices were rising even before the war, as the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic fueled strong consumer demand.

At the same time, UK ridership remains below pre-pandemic levels and rail companies are looking to cut costs and staff.

Negotiations falter

India Tv - British Rail Strikes

Image Source: AP

A train pulls into Hunts Cross station in Liverpool, England on Monday 20 June 2022. Unions and UK rail companies are set to hold last-minute talks on Monday amid fading hopes of averting the country’s biggest rail strike in decades.

Negotiations to settle the dispute have stalled and unions are calling on the government to intervene.

They accuse Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative administration of standing on the sidelines to blame the unions and the centre-left opposition Labor Party for the derailment.

Johnson’s spokesman Max Blaine said government intervention would not be “helpful”.

“Getting up at the last minute would be a distraction,” he said.

Unions say the government, which sets the rules for rail companies and owns infrastructure operator Network Rail, has not given firms enough flexibility to offer substantial wage increases.

Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke said “this is a matter between employers – the railroad companies and Network Rail – and the unions.”

He said workers should get a “reasonable wage increase” but too much of a raise would trigger a “wage-price” spiral, driving inflation even higher. Lynch, the head of the union, said he expects strikes in other sectors later this year.

“I think a lot of unions will run all over the country because people can’t take it anymore,” he told Sky News.

“We have people working full-time who have to receive government benefits and use food funds. It’s a national disgrace.”

Exacerbating travel concerns in the UK, Heathrow Airport said it was asking airlines flying from Terminals 2 and 3 to cut Monday flights by 10%. The request comes after reports emerged on Friday of a huge amount of baggage at London airport.

Several European airports have canceled flights in an attempt to reduce delays.

Budget airline easyJet said on Monday it was “merging” flights due to “operational issues” at airports including London’s Gatwick and Amsterdam’s Schiphol, which have cut the number of flights they will operate over the summer. EasyJet did not say how many flights would be affected.

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