Network Rail bosses have said they plan to hold more talks with union leaders today in a last-ditch bid to avert the biggest railway strike in more than three decades.
More than 40,000 railway workers must strike Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Only around half of the UK rail network will be open on strike days with very limited service on open lines.
A Network Rail source said: ‘We are in the room talking and there has been some movement. The odds are slim, but there is hope.
In his strongest comments yet on the impending strike, Labor leader Keir Starmer will say strikes should not take place. He was to use a speech at a conference on Sunday to accuse ministers of “pouring gasoline on the fire” to fuel a divisive dispute.
Network Rail has made some progress in talks which are expected to continue at its London headquarters on Sunday afternoon with the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union. However, union bosses indicated on Saturday that there was almost no chance of a last-minute breakthrough in talks on wages, jobs and conditions.
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, said “no workable settlement” had been tabled and the strikes would continue. He said thousands of jobs were being cut and workers faced wage increases below inflation.
Network Rail has proposed a 2% pay rise, retroactive to January, along with two further increases during the year of 0.5% each linked to productivity and efficiency gains. Union negotiators want wage increases in line with inflation.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: ‘I’m serious about trying to find a solution and find a compromise that gives our employees a decent pay rise, but it has to be affordable for taxpayers and ticket payers.
“Our offers have so far been rejected as union demands are far from affordable. We will continue to talk and try to find a way to avoid this unnecessary and damaging strike. He said he was surprised the RMT rejected the talks before they were completed.
The strike involves Network Rail staff and 13 rail operating companies in the biggest dispute on the network since 1989.
Even if a last-minute deal was reached on Network Rail workers, staff employed by the rail companies would continue to go on strike. There will also be a 24-hour strike on the London Underground on Tuesday. There will be no passenger services to stations across Britain if strikes continue, including Penzance, Bournemouth, Hastings, Holyhead, Blackpool and Hull. The open lines will provide very limited service from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Rail companies are advising passengers to only travel if necessary, with most commuters likely to work from home on strike days.
With fine weather forecasts for many regions this week, the action is set to disrupt several summer events including the Glastonbury Festival, the British Athletics Championships in Manchester and the third Test match between England and New Zealand in Headingley, Leeds.
Industry group UK Hospitality warned on Saturday that rail strikes are likely to cost the tourism, leisure and theater industries more than £1billion.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UK Hospitality, told Times Radio that tourism and leisure businesses that were already fragile after the pandemic shutdowns would take a “big hit”.
Some A-level and GCSE exams are held on action days. The Department for Education said it did not expect exams to be postponed due to the action and advised students and teachers who are traveling in the process of considering alternative travel arrangements.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the government had repeatedly urged the RMT to resolve the dispute at the negotiating table. He said on Saturday: “Sadly they have ignored those demands, and we are now on the cusp of major disruption which will cause misery for people across the country.
“Many people who don’t get paid if they can’t get to work risk losing money at a time when they simply can’t afford it.
“The RMT is punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make to protect our rail network.”
RMT bosses are to negotiate with Network Rail and train company bosses on pay deals, but says the Treasury is ‘calling the shots’. Shapps last week rebuffed a call to meet union bosses, saying the talks were rightly employer-led.
The Observer understands that Network Rail has been given a mandate and a negotiating framework by the government. Once an agreement has been reached, it is likely that a similar mandate will then be given to the railway companies.
Starmer is due to deliver a speech at the annual conference of the Labor Local Government Association in Coventry to accuse ministers of preferring to resort to strikes for political attacks, thus encouraging them to press ahead.
“Companies will struggle with freight. School exams will be difficult to obtain. Missed appointments at the hospital,” Starmer will say. “That’s why I said that strikes should not take place. But here is the truth. Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps want the strikes to continue. They want the country to stop so they can feed on division.
“Instead of spending their time this week around the negotiating table, they’re designing attack ads. Instead of conversations between adults to calm the situation, they pour oil on the fire. Instead of bringing people together in the national interest, they fuel division in their political interest.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the rail industry, says the government has committed more than £16billion to keep the railways running during the pandemic and that reforms were needed to get passengers back on the network.
A spokesman for the RDG said: “Nobody wins in a strike. Working with Network Rail, our plan is to maintain as many services as possible, but significant disruption will be unavoidable and parts of the network will go unserved. Passengers should therefore plan their journeys carefully and check their train timetables.
Which sectors are likely to be affected by strikes?
A second rail union, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, has served notice to vote on 6,000 Network Rail workers for industrial action for a pay rise to reflect the cost of living crisis. In the event of a positive vote, a strike could take place from Monday July 25, the week when the Commonwealth Games begin in Birmingham.
The three local government unions representing 1.4 million council workers have submitted a joint demand to the local government for wage increases at the retail price index rate, currently at 11.1% or a raise of salary of £2,000, whichever is higher.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, the largest civil service union, is expected to vote its members on industrial action later this year on the 2022-23 wage proposals. He is calling for a national wage increase of 10%.
The National Education Union, which represents 460,000 members, has pledged to hold a vote in the summer or fall term if it does not secure wage increases of at least 8% for all teachers.
Junior doctors in England claim their pay has fallen by 22% at real teams since 2008-09. Doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, said it would vote for industrial action no later than early 2023 if the demand for young doctors’ pay to be restored is not met. The Royal College of Nursing is calling for a wage premium for nurses of 5% above inflation, but the government has asked to cap any wage increase for 2022-23 at 3%.
The results of a ballot of 2,400 criminal lawyers will be announced tomorrow on strike action. Criminal trials could be halted with possible walkouts from Monday, June 27.