The head of the RMT union warned on Thursday that passengers face an “indefinite” campaign of strike action on Britain’s railways unless the government and industry reach a negotiated settlement with workers.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch wrote to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, demanding ministers step in to end the long-running dispute over pay, working practices and job security, which saw just a fifth of train services running in Britain on Thursday.
The walkouts by members of the RMT and TSSA were the latest in a wave of industrial action to hit the transport network this summer, as unions push for significant pay rises to help members cope with soaring inflation even as negotiations have stalled.
Lynch accused the government of prolonging the row for political reasons and warned that “the conflict will be prolonged indefinitely” as private train companies were shielded from loss of revenue on strike days.
The government took financial control of the railways in 2020, when the pandemic led to a sharp drop in passenger revenue, and has put companies on new tightly controlled contracts, where they are paid to run services.
“Your government has taken the decision to use taxpayers’ money to save private rail companies from being liable for revenue lost due to industrial action on the condition that those same companies comply with government instructions to hold down wages, cut thousands of safety-critical rail jobs”, Lynch wrote.
In response, the Department for Transport said unions should “get off the strikes and back around the bargaining table” to help end the strikes.
“All these strikes do is hurt the people the unions claim to represent, many of whom will again be out of pocket and forced to miss a day’s work,” it added.
Thursday’s strike marked the start of three days of industrial action across the public transport network.
RMT members will shut down parts of London’s Underground and Overground networks on Friday when they strike for the fifth time this year in a separate dispute over pay and pensions with Transport for London, which runs the bus, train and Tube network in the capital.
More than 1,600 bus drivers in London are also set to walk out on Friday and Saturday in a row over pay between the Unite union and bus operator London United, a subsidiary of France’s RATP.
RMT members on the rail network will then stage another 24-hour strike on Saturday.
Network Rail, which owns and operates the UK’s rail infrastructure, has offered both RMT and non-management staff at TSSA an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, subject to the modernization of working practices.
Some managers and supervisors in TSSA this month accepted a separate agreement for a one-year pay increase of 4 percent.
Network Rail has said the average striking RMT member has so far lost more than £2,000 from the strikes and has called on RMT management to give members a vote on the proposed pay deal.
“We’ve put a very good deal on the table . . . but the RMT has refused to put it to a referendum,” Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, told the BBC on Thursday.