The RMT has used its favourable strike ballot result to call three days of national rail strikes later this month.
The walkouts have been set for 21, 23 and 25 June, and will affect 13 train operators in England as well as Network Rail. Services on Govia Thameslink Railway could be less affected by the strikes, because the staff there only approved of action short of a strike, but the RMT could still stage a ban on overtime and rest day working or other forms of working to rule, while parallel walkouts by Network Rail signallers could also cause disruption on the extensive GTR network.
The RMT has predicted that strikes on three separate days will cause problems throught the week.
General secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously. 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 £500 million 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.’
He added that the union was ‘open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers’, but he also warned that ’they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways’.
The industry has reacted with disappointment.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: ‘We continue to meet with our trades unions to discuss their pay concerns and we’re doing everything we can to avoid strike action on the railway. We know that the cost of living has increased and we want to give our people a pay rise, but the RMT must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers and passengers.
‘Travel habits have changed forever and the railway must change as well. We cannot expect to take more than our fair share of public funds, and so we must modernise our industry to put it on a sound financial footing for the future. Failure to modernise will only lead to industry decline and more job losses in the long run.’
Rail Delivery Group chair Steve Montgomery said: ‘Today’s announcement is disappointing. We urge the RMT’s leadership to call off needless and damaging strikes and continue to work with us to ensure a fair deal for our people and for the taxpayer while securing the long-term future of the railways.
‘No one wins in the event of a strike. Staff lose pay, the industry loses vital revenue making it harder to afford pay increases, and passengers and businesses are disrupted.
‘While we will keep as many services running as possible, sadly if this action goes ahead, significant disruption will be inevitable. We therefore urge passengers to plan their journeys carefully and find alternative ways to travel during the strike period where possible.’
Avanti West Coast warned that its services would be cut back. In a statement, the company said: ‘Customers should expect our existing timetable to be reduced significantly on those days, and those services that do run will be very busy. The days either side of industrial action are also likely to be affected. We will announce a revised timetable as soon as possible.’
South Western Railway managing director Claire Mann 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.’
Rail Freight Group director general Maggie Simpson said: ‘The pattern of proposed strike action is about as bad as it gets for rail freight, with disruption likely across the entire week and into the weekend. Even with the plans that are in place, supply chains will be impacted, and it is really damaging to customer confidence in rail, and to future growth. We urge all parties to find a rapid solution to this damaging dispute.’
Consumer champion Passenger Focus is also concerned. Chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Passengers will be disappointed that the rail industry and the RMT have not been able to reach an agreement and strikes have been announced. This means uncertainty for passengers, so it is crucial that all parties get back around the table and resolve this matter without bringing the railway to a standstill.
‘It is passengers who suffer most in the event of strikes. Passengers will need plenty of advance information about the strikes and what services will be running to allow them to plan their journeys during this uncertain time.’
Not all staff are members of the RMT. Most drivers belong to ASLEF, while station, office and depot staff often belong to TSSA or Unite. Even so, the RMT has estimated that at least 40,000 staff are set to walk out unless an agreement can be reached in the meantime.