Train travel set to be disrupted as rail union announces three days of national strike action

A RAIL union is launching three days of national strike action in a move set to affect travel across Portsmouth this month.

Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 10:02 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 3:23 pm
South Western Railway. Picture: Stuart Bailey
South Western Railway. Picture: Stuart Bailey

More than 50,000 railway workers - including staff from South Western Railways and Network Rail - are expected to walk out on June 21, the first day of the planned industrial action. On June 23 and 25, up to 40,000 workers will take part in the strike.

The walk-out, organised by union RMT, follows a breakdown in negotiation over pay freezes and job cuts.

Jeremy Varns, campaign coordinator for South Western Railway Watch, called the union move ‘highly disappointing’.

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He said: ‘The railways are still recovering from lockdowns, changing work patterns and a corresponding drop in income.

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‘The government and taxpayers have helped to protect jobs and services within the industry, but clearly, this cannot continue forever without reform and modernisation.

‘We're often told that strikes are a last resort, yet general secretary, Mick [Lynch], appears to be relishing the chance to 'shut down' the network, seemingly indifferent to the impact this will have on passengers.’

However Mr Lynch said that the rail industry, with the support of the government, has failed to take union members’ concerns seriously.

He added: ‘We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1 per cent and rising.

‘Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system.

‘Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘This unfairness is fuelling our members' anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.’

Mr Varns is calling for the government to do more to energise the train sector, and said: ‘Greater investment and certainty of funding are needed to capitalise on the changing political landscape and public awareness of environmental matters.

‘Such a policy would bring more jobs, more services and lower fares.’

He also added that the unions must accept some blame for the high expense of train travel.

Mr Varns said: ‘[Union] leaders are regularly harping on about excessive profits and the need for full renationalisation, yet the simple, inconvenient truth is that the operational costs of the industry need to fall.

‘How much more must passengers pay to meet the RMT's current demands? Where do they think this money is coming from if not us?

‘Staff should be paid fairly, and the cost of living crisis is of concern to us all.

‘But my message to striking rail workers is this; preventing those who rely on a functioning train service from making a living themselves is not the way to make your point.

‘I'd also urge the RMT leadership to get back to the negotiating table and to do so in good faith.

‘Striking is a sign of failure on all sides, not cause for celebration.’

South Western Railway is finalising a significantly reduced timetable for the dates of the strike, and is warning customers to expect severe disruption on days impacted by industrial action.

Claire Mann, managing director of South Western Railway, said: ‘I understand that the announcement of upcoming industrial action will worry many of our customers, particularly against the backdrop of significant cost of living pressures.

‘We are carefully finalising contingency plans, but I’m afraid this action will mean that many customers will be unable to travel by rail.

‘If customers can change their date of travel, or make alternative arrangements, I urge them to begin making those arrangements as soon as possible.

‘I appreciate how challenging this may be and would like to thank customers for their patience as the rail industry responds to this unprecedented industrial action.’