Highlights

  • UK transport secy: transport secretary said "outdated unions" were "opposing progress".
  • RMT, which represents rail workers ranging from catering staff to signallers, is calling for a pay rise of at least 7%

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Biggest rail strike in over 30 years hits UK

Passengers in England, Scotland and Wales face severe disruption as railways start strike

Britain woke up to its biggest rail strike in decades after last-minute talks between a union and train companies failed to reach a settlement over pay and job security.

In central London rows of trains could be seen stopped at stations and the city's streets were vastly emptier than usual.

Up to 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff will walk out for three days this week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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The strike is expected to shut down most of the rail network across the country, with London Underground subway services also hit by a walkout.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the strike would cause “mass disruption,” with only about 20% of services able to operate.

Shapps placed blame for the strike squarely on unions, which he said were resisting much-needed changes to make the railways “fit for the post-COVID world.”

U.K. passenger numbers remain below pre-COVID-19 levels, and train companies, which were kept afloat with government support during the pandemic, are seeking to cut costs and staffing.

Unions have urged the government to get involved to resolve the dispute. They accuse Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative administration of standing on the sidelines so it can blame unions, and the left-of-center opposition Labour Party, for the disruption.

Unions say the government, which sets the rules for train companies and owns infrastructure operator Network Rail, has not given the firms enough flexibility to offer a substantial pay increase.

“The dead hand of this Tory government is all over this dispute,” said Lynch, the union chief.

Unions are warning of a summer of strikes as soaring inflation hits the pay packets of workers across the economy.

Millions of people in Britain, like those across Europe, are seeing their cost of living soar.

Salaries have not kept pace with inflation, which has hit 9% and is forecast to rise further, as Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezes supplies of energy and food staples including wheat.

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

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