The biggest rail strikes in a generation will be followed by more action throughout the year and beyond if no deal is reached, the RMT union leader has warned after last-ditch talks to avoid industrial action broke down in the coming days.
A total of 40,000 RMT workers at Network Rail and 13 railway companies will cause major disruptions to the rail network for six days when they leave from Tuesday.
RMT boss Mick Lynch told the Financial Times there was “no chance” at this stage of reaching an agreement with the government and the rail industry on low wage increases, possible job cuts and changes in working practices.
“Until an agreement is reached, there will be a strike campaign and other unions will join us. . . I expect there will be more strikes,” Lynch said.
The RMT leadership has a six-month mandate to take industrial action by the end of November after members voted to strike in May. But Lynch said he would return to members for a new mandate to extend the dispute into next year if an agreement cannot be reached.
“We will renew the mandates until we find a solution to the problems in the dispute,” he said.
Lynch also called on the government to “unleash” the railroad industry so companies can negotiate freely with the union.
Ministers effectively control industry finances following changes introduced during the pandemic, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this week it was up to Network Rail and train operators to negotiate.
“If we had normal negotiations we could make progress, but the government is right behind in the shadows. . . They want that fight,” Lynch said.
Lynch said the wage increases being discussed – just 2 percent due to the public sector salary cap and cuts in the railroad budget – are insufficient as inflation is expected to hit 11 percent this year.
Earlier this week, Shapps said the industrial action was an “incredible act of self-harm” just as people were returning to the railroad in the wake of the pandemic.
He said the railway needs to find savings after receiving £16billion in taxpayer money during the pandemic and RMT leaders have refused to discuss modernisation.
Shapps has warned that the strikes could cost thousands of jobs if they lead to more passengers switching to teleworking.
“Don’t jeopardize the industry and your future. Don’t risk putting yourself out of work,” Shapps said in a speech this week.
The strike is scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but passengers will face disruption for six days from Tuesday morning to Sunday because trains are canceled and night-shift staff don’t step in.
Network Rail, the public body that runs the railway infrastructure, plans to operate only about 4,500 of the normal 20,000 daily trains on strike days and close thousands of kilometers of track in parts of the country.
Trains will only run 11 hours a day between 7.30am and 6.30pm and passengers have been told not to travel unless necessary.
On Tuesday, RMT workers will also go on strike on the London Underground in a separate dispute with Transport for London.