Portsmouth commuters to face 'utter misery' and 'chaos' on trains as huge rail strike action begins

THOUSANDS of commuters across Hampshire will face a week of ‘utter misery’ and ‘chaos’ after last-ditch negotiations to avoid the biggest rail strike in 30 years collapsed yesterday.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 4:55 am

From today, thousands of staff at Network Rail and 13 rail operators will walk out in a move set to hit most major lines – including those around Portsmouth.

The action was triggered by the Rail Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union following a bitter row over pay and working conditions.

Strikes will take place today, Thursday and on Saturday. However, it’s feared the industrial action could continue for weeks if a deal isn’t brokered soon.

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Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (060619-20)

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Hampshire’s top business boss warned this would come as a crippling blow for firms who are still battling the financial fallout of Covid and the soaring cost of living prices.

Ross McNally, head of Hampshire Chamber Commerce, said businesses were ‘in the midst of an extremely challenging situation’ and urged parties to return to the negotiating table to agree a ‘fair deal’.

He added: ‘The rail strikes will affect millions of people and cause disruption for businesses and organisations up and down the country.

Passengers at London King's Cross station. Trains will be disrupted due to industrial action as the RMT has announced industrial action on June 21, 23, and 25. Picture date: Monday June 20, 2022.

‘Many of our members are only just building back from the impact of Covid and are seeing fresh financial pressures kicking in due to 40-year-high inflation.’

Just one in five trains are expected to be running on strike days, with London Underground workers joining in today’s industrial action.

One Hampshire train driver warned the actions would cause ‘chaos’ across the network and could disrupt vital deliveries of fuel across the country.

The driver, who is in a different union to the RMT which is not striking, told The News: ‘It’s going to have a massive impact. We drive trains carrying containers and dangerous goods and we’re getting caught up in this too.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union prepares to give a statement on national rail dispute at the RMT Trade Union headquarters in London. Trains will be disrupted due to industrial action as the RMT has announced industrial action on June 21, 23, and 25. Picture date: Monday June 20, 2022.

‘It is frustrating. We have got to take trains to Birmingham but we will have to pay for taxis from Birmingham to Eastleigh to get us home.’

The RMT blamed the negotiation failure on the ‘dead hand’ of the government.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘It is clear that the Tory government, after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.’

The claims sparked a bitter response from local Tory politicians last night, with Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP and trade minister, saying: ‘This is going to hit people, especially commuters, hard and cause utter misery. It will also not help the economic recovery and I’m so disappointed to see it going ahead.’

Ross McNally, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce's executive chairman, is concerned of the impact the strikes will have on business

Councillor Sean Woodward, boss of Fareham Borough Council, raged at the ‘absolutely atrocious behaviour’ of unions.

And Tory MP for Gosport, Caroline Dinenage, said it was ‘upsetting’ Labour had sided with the unions instead of the ‘travelling public’.

‘These cruel strikes will hit millions of families in the pocket; harm the economy, costing British businesses millions of pounds; and disrupt vital services like NHS operations and GCSE and A-Level exams,’ she added.

But Stephen Morgan, Labour’s MP for Portsmouth South, blasted the government for a lacklustre approach to resolving the crisis.

He said: ‘Instead of Tory ministers washing their hands of responsibility, they need to step up, show some leadership and get round the table with employers and unions to resolve this.’

Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Passengers at London King's Cross station. Trains will be disrupted due to industrial action as the RMT has announced industrial action on June 21, 23, and 25. Picture date: Monday June 20, 2022.