Train passengers in Britain faced deserted stations and travel chaos on Tuesday in what has been described as the “biggest rail strike in modern history”.
Tens of thousands of railway workers walked off the job after talks between rail operators and the Railway, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) failed to resolve disputes over wages, job security and benefits. working conditions.
The three-day strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, involving more than 40,000 RMT members and 13 operators, was expected to affect 80% of services across Britain.
Operators not involved in the strike are also affected due to the strike by Network Rail flagmen.
Much of Britain will have no passenger trains throughout the day on Tuesday, with services largely limited to main lines operating at limited times.
Londoners have been urged to avoid travel if possible as a separate one-day strike shut down the Tube and other transport services in the capital.
London Overground and the new Elizabeth Line will also be affected by the National Railway Strike for the rest of the week as parts of the services use National Rail assets.
More cars, bikes and pedestrians were on the road Tuesday morning. Hospital staff said some colleagues slept at work overnight to maintain care.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under pressure to do more to help Britons facing the toughest economic blow in decades, said the strike would hurt businesses still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unions have said the railway strikes could mark the start of a ‘summer of discontent’ with teachers, doctors, garbage collectors and even lawyers heading for industrial action as inflation pushes to 10 %.
“The British worker needs a pay rise,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told Sky News. “They need job security and decent conditions.”
The RMT said train operators have offered a 2% pay rise, with another possibility of 1% if the union agrees to proposed job cuts and efficiency reforms, well below the pay rise 7% required.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused the union of walking away from the negotiating table when “there is a wage offer on the table and the job cuts are largely voluntary”.
He told Sky News the government plans to legislate to protect the traveling public from future disruption by introducing measures such as minimum service levels.
“It would mean that on a day like today, a certain level of service would still have to be executed and through changes to allow transferable workers, that’s a much faster change we could embrace,” he said. he declares.
“For future strikes, both in this stream but also for other strikes, we will ensure that the law is firmly on the side of the passengers. One way is to use transferable skills, or workers temps, as you call it.
RMT members on the picket lines were skeptical of the plan, saying there is no reserve of trained agency workers who can safely run the services.
Asked about the plan, Shapps told Time Radio it was more about “transferable personnel”.
“So it’s more about if you have someone in a Network Rail control room sitting at a computer, they can move to the next machine to do a job that they are fully qualified to do. But for now, the unions are preventing that from happening. So it’s more about that kind of stuff,” he said.
Johnson told his cabinet that the strikes were ‘wrong and unnecessary’ and said his message to the country was that he must be prepared to ‘stay the course’ as improvements in railway management were in the interest of the public.
Last week the government said the railways needed to be reformed as they not only compete with other modes of transport but also “in a battle with Zoom, Teams and remote working”.
He also said £16billion of taxpayers’ money had been pledged to keep railway workers in their jobs during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. In parts of 2020 and 2021, public transport was largely empty as people had to work from home if possible and not go out without a good reason.
But the union said tens of millions of pounds paid out to train operators amid the pandemic have been paid out as dividends to overseas investors.
Amanda Testa, branch secretary of the RMT in Bristol, said on Tuesday that the strikes were about “COVID being used as a reason not to give us a pay rise and the cost of COVID to businesses while profits remain protected”.
She described the 2% pay rise offered as ‘insulting’ in light of current inflation rates and said it was being used to force employees to accept pension reforms and changes to terms and conditions of their contracts.
A survey by YouGov pollsters earlier this month found public opinion divided, with around half of those polled opposing the action and just over a third saying they supported it.
Reuters and AP media contributed to this report.