British train passengers will experience a third one-day rail strike on Saturday after talks between the owner of the industry’s infrastructure and the RMT union failed to yield a breakthrough.
Negotiations over pay and working conditions continued on Friday between the RMT and Network Rail but no agreement was reached.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps on Friday evening urged the RMT to “call off Saturday’s strike now”. He said in a tweet that the union was “damaging the lives of everyday hardworking people that they claim to represent”.
Train companies said they would, as with the strikes on Tuesday and Thursday, run a “significantly” reduced timetable on Saturday with only 20 per cent of services in operation. They warned the public to only use trains “if necessary”.
The three days of action represent the biggest strike in decades on Britain’s rail network, as RMT members object to pay rises that are significantly below inflation and changes to working practices to increase productivity, which could lead to compulsory redundancies.
At the heart of the issue is a clash between the RMT and Network Rail over modernising working practices within the network’s maintenance unit, which employs 10,000 workers.
Network Rail has argued that outdated practices need to be modernised to save costs, which could be used to fund pay increases above the proposed 3 per cent pay rise.
It said it would consult on the modernisation plan from the start of July, which involves about 1,800 job cuts, many of which it expects through voluntary redundancies.
However, the RMT is awaiting a written commitment from Network Rail that it will not implement compulsory redundancies, people familiar with the situation said. RMT is also pushing for a 7 per cent pay rise, as inflation has hit 9.1 per cent.
“What we cannot accept is thousands of railway workers being thrown on the scrapheap after being praised as heroes during Covid,” said Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary. “RMT will continue its industrial campaign until a negotiated settlement is reached.”
Other industrial action could come in July as another rail union, TSSA, is balloting members about potential strikes that could come as soon as July 13.
Saturday’s strike is expected to affect the leisure and tourism industry, as fewer commuters will be using the network.
“This is the start of the holiday season, so it will have an impact on tourists,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality. “People will probably cancel their plans rather than find a way around the strike. The really big impact, though, is the hit to consumer confidence.”
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents passenger and freight rail companies, said trains will only run between 7.30am and 6.30pm on Saturday and warned that parts of the country will have no services at all. It added that some disruption was “still expected” on Sunday.
“We are very disappointed that the RMT leadership has decided to continue with tomorrow’s strike, and the union leadership has chosen to take action which will severely inconvenience the millions of people who had plans over the weekend,” said Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “We remain at the table and ready for talks, day or night, and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption for our passengers.”