UK rail passengers and freight customers face disruption into the new year after the largest transport union on Tuesday announced four 48-hour strikes and an overtime ban after talks with employers collapsed.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, also said the union would seek to co-ordinate with others engaged in workplace disputes.
“Working people across our class need a pay rise and we are determined to win that for our members in RMT,” Lynch told reporters.
The announcement of walkouts on December 13-14, 16-17 and on January 3-4, and 6-7 dashes hopes of a resolution to industrial action under way since June. It comes a week after the RMT won a mandate to continue strikes for six more months.
The union is engaged in separate disputes with Network Rail and 14 train operating companies awarded franchises by the government.
The owner of Great Britain’s rail infrastructure has offered workers a 4 per cent pay rise in both 2022 and 2023, subject to workplace changes that would lead to 2,000 voluntary redundancies. Train operator staff have been offered a 2 per cent annual pay increase.
The ban on overtime working starts on December 18 and lasts until January 2. Lynch predicted it would lead to shortages of train crew and severe problems for the programme of engineering work scheduled for the festive period.
Employers and the RMT this month entered “intensive negotiations” aimed at ending the long-running dispute. But Lynch said that while the union had been “reasonable”, reaching a deal had been made impossible by “the dead hand of government”.
The RMT is also engaged in a dispute with London Underground over pay, job security and pensions. Aslef, the train drivers’ union, is staging a 24-hour walkout over pay at a series of train operators on November 26.
The breakdown in talks follows a claim last week by the Communication Workers’ Union that Royal Mail had walked away from negotiations after presenting staff with a “take it or leave it” proposal.
Postal workers are set to strike again this Thursday and Friday and hold further walkouts in the run-up to Christmas. They will be joined this week by staff at more than 150 universities in a row over pay and pensions.
Meanwhile the Royal College of Nursing, which had called on ministers to open formal talks on pay and patient safety by Tuesday, is preparing to announce dates for walkouts. Unison, which represents hundreds of thousands of NHS workers, will close its own strike ballot on Friday.
Lynch did not specify which other groups the RMT planned to co-ordinate action with, but said he was involved in talks with the TUC, the trade union umbrella body, and individual unions.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said the new strikes would only make the industry’s “precarious financial hole” bigger and finding a resolution more difficult.
“We will not give up and hope that the RMT will return to the table with a more realistic appreciation of the situation,” he said.
Appealing for the union to return to talks, the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said the dispute had cost the industry millions in lost revenue and stalled its post-pandemic recovery.
The Department for Transport did not directly address the union’s claim that it was standing in the way of a settlement. But in a statement it urged the union to reach a deal with employers. Ministers have insisted throughout the dispute that the government has no direct role.
“We once again urge union leaders to work with employers and come to an agreement which is fair for passengers, taxpayers and workers alike,” the department said.