Rail union warns disruption could last all year after pay talks fail

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The biggest rail strikes for a generation will be followed by further action lasting all year and beyond unless a deal is reached, the leader of the RMT union has warned after last-ditch talks to avoid industrial action in the coming days failed.

A total of 40,000 RMT staff at Network Rail and 13 train operating companies will cause major disruption across the rail network for six days when they walk out from Tuesday.

RMT leader Mick Lynch told the Financial Times there was currently “no chance” of reaching a deal with the government and rail industry in a row over low pay rises, potential job cuts and changes to working practices.

“Until there is a settlement there will be a campaign of strike action, and other unions will join us . . . I expect there to be more strikes,” Lynch said.

The RMT leadership has a six-month mandate to launch industrial action until the end of November, after members voted in favour of strikes in May. But Lynch said he would go back to members for a new mandate to extend the dispute into next year if an agreement cannot be found.

“We will renew the mandates until we get a settlement to the problems in the dispute,” he said.

Lynch also called on the government to “unshackle” the railway industry to allow companies to negotiate freely with the union.

Ministers effectively control the industry’s finances following changes brought in during the pandemic, but transport secretary Grant Shapps said this week it was for Network Rail and train operators to negotiate.

“If we were doing a normal negotiation we might make progress, but the government is standing right behind this in the shadows . . . they want this dispute,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the pay rises being discussed — as little as 2 per cent because of the public sector pay cap and railway budget cuts — were inadequate given that inflation is forecast to hit 11 per cent this year.

Earlier this week Shapps said the industrial action was an “incredible act of self-harm” just as people were coming back to the railways following the pandemic.

He said the railway needed to find savings after receiving £16bn of taxpayer support during the pandemic, and that RMT leaders had refused to discuss modernisation.

Shapps has warned that the strikes could cost thousands of jobs if they cause more passengers to shift to remote working.

“Don’t risk the industry and your future. Don’t risk striking yourself out of a job,” Shapps said in a speech this week.

The industrial action is scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but passengers will face six days of disruption from Tuesday morning until Sunday, because trains will be out of place and night shift staff will not clock on.

Network Rail, the public body that runs railway infrastructure, plans to run only about 4,500 of the normal 20,000 daily trains on strike days, and to shut thousands of miles of track across swaths of the country.

Trains will only run for 11 hours per day, between 7.30am and 6.30pm, and passengers have been urged to only travel if necessary.

On Tuesday RMT workers will also strike on the London Underground, in a separate dispute with Transport for London.

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