Christmas rail strikes: Fury at rail barons for ‘holding country to ransom’


Furious ministers today accused rail union barons of ‘holding the country to ransom’ by targeting passengers travelling home for Christmas with strikes – as RMT boss Mick Lynch refused to take the blame for throwing festive plans into chaos.

Militant 1970s-style firebrand Mr Lynch announced the action last night after pay talks broke down with rail bosses. He acknowledged ‘the travelling public will be really disappointed, irritated and angry’ but claimed the union had ‘no choice’.

More than 40,000 rail workers will walk out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27. It means those travelling to be with friends or loved ones on Christmas Day should make their journey before midday the day before if heading across the country or risk not getting there. Normally trains would run until about 10pm.

HAVE YOU CANCELLED YOUR CHRISTMAS/NYE PLANS BECAUSE OF THE STRIKES? Email jacob.thorburn@mailonline.co.uk  

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Lynch doubled down on his decision to unleash fresh strikes.

More than 40,000 rail workers will walkout from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27. It means those travelling to be with friends or loved ones on Christmas Day should travel before midday the day before if they are travelling across the country or risk not getting there. Normally trains would run until about 10pm

More than 40,000 rail workers will walkout from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27. It means those travelling to be with friends or loved ones on Christmas Day should travel before midday the day before if they are travelling across the country or risk not getting there. Normally trains would run until about 10pm

Militant 1970s-style firebrand Mick Lynch announced the new action last night after pay talks broke down with rail bosses

Militant 1970s-style firebrand Mick Lynch announced the new action last night after pay talks broke down with rail bosses 

Crisis talks on Christmas chaos: Rishi Sunak gathers Cabinet as rail unions heap MORE misery on Britons with extra strikes despite pay offer 

Rishi Sunak is gathering his Cabinet today amid mounting fears a wave of strikes will wreck Christmas.

The PM and his senior team are taking stock of the crisis in Downing Street, after the government refused to rule out tightening laws on industrial action.

Furious ministers have accused rail union barons of ‘holding the country to ransom’ by targeting passengers travelling home for the festive season with new strikes from December 24-27.

The boss of the militant RMT union, Mick Lynch, announced the escalation last night after pay talks broke down with rail operators. He acknowledged that ‘the travelling public will be really disappointed, irritated and angry’, but claimed the union had ‘no choice’.

More than 40,000 rail workers will walkout from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27. It means those travelling to be with friends or loved ones on Christmas Day should travel before midday the day before if they are travelling across the country or risk not getting there. Normally trains would run until about 10pm.

NHS, education, and postal staff, as well as driving instructors, are also planning to strike over the festive season. Tories are alarmed about a repeat of the ‘winter of discontent’ that effectively destroyed the Callaghan government in the 1970s.

Schools minister Nick Gibb today urged the RMT not to ‘hold the country to ransom’, telling GB News: ‘It’s a very disappointing decision by the RMT, they were offered a very good pay deal by the employers, eight per cent over two years, which is in line with the kind of pay deals that are taking place outside the public sector.

‘So, I think the unions really should call off this strike. It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run-up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations.

‘We would urge the unions to talk to employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer to Christmas.’

He said: ‘My members are living on extremely low wages. Not everyone’s earning the same money, but what everyone’s experiencing is a lowering of their conditions. 

‘Now we regret the inconvenience that we are are causing, but this inconveniencing is being caused by the Government… they’ve held back even these paltry offers till the last minute.

‘We have to respond to what the companies are doing. If we do not respond, then those changes will go through without a response from us and our members will have to suffer the consequences of this, including job losses and changes to their working lives that are more unacceptable to them’.

The militant added: ‘We don’t want this to happen at Christmas. But if we don’t do it, the changes will be imposed on us. 

‘If I ask somebody not to impose something and they say, ”I’m going to go ahead and make those changes from December 15” and we don’t respond, they will just assume that the dispute is over… so we have to respond to that.’

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the ‘militant’ Government of presiding over a ‘complete shambles’ on the railways as she backed the workers’ right to strike.

But Government minister Nick Gibb argued the RMT’s ‘very disappointing decision’ came after they were offered a ‘very good pay deal’ of 8 per cent over two years.

‘I think the unions really should call off this strike. It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations,’ he told GB News.

‘We would urge the unions to talk to employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer to Christmas.’

Two 48-hour walkouts next week, on December 13 to 14 and 16 to 17 will also go ahead, along with two more on January 3 to 4 and 6 to 7.

But the union cancelled an overtime ban from December 18 to January 2 which could have caused hundreds of last-minute cancellations. Several operators rely on overtime working to run a full timetable.

Mr Lynch insisted he does not want strikes to go ahead before Christmas but argued his members were being forced into action by the Government not allowing train operators a proper mandate to negotiate on pay and conditions.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We regret the inconvenience that we are causing but this inconvenience is being caused by the Government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the companies and directing what’s going on.

‘They’ve held back even these paltry offers to the last minute so they know it’s very difficult to deal with these offers.’

He said there is always a wind-down of trains on Christmas eve but, pressed if there will be earlier disruption because of the action, he said ‘yes there will be’.

‘They will run up until the evening time,’ he said.

‘We don’t want this to happen at Christmas.

‘If we don’t respond they will just assume the dispute is over and they’ve got their way so we have to respond to that. I hope the companies change their positions before the action takes place on December 13 and we can cancel the action – but I’ve been hoping for that all the summer.’

He argued wages are being lowered against soaring inflation, which passed 11%, while conditions are being ‘ripped up’.

‘It would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in response to those attacks,’ he told Today.

RMT supporters protest outside offices of Network Rail on July 27, 2022

RMT supporters protest outside offices of Network Rail on July 27, 2022

Commuters are pictured at a train station in London in December 2022

Commuters at a train station in London

Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announces it is calling off strikes planned for December 

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced it was calling off strikes planned in NR for December and is putting an offer to its members.

The TSSA had been due to strike on December 17 and take other forms of industrial action from December 13.

The union had announced that an offer from the Rail Delivery Group had been rejected, meaning industrial action at train operators would go ahead in the coming weeks.

The TSSA said on Monday that after talks with NR over the weekend, it had received a ‘best and final offer’ in writing from the company, which was considered at a meeting of its reps.

Union members will vote in the coming weeks on whether to accept the offer.

Luke Chester, TSSA organising director, said: ‘This offer is the best we can achieve through negotiation, and it was undoubtedly improved because of the ballot results and strike action taken by our members, who we applaud.

‘Our members will now have their say on this offer and we are suspending strike action.

‘Our union is pleased that this offer provides job security and certainty for Network Rail staff through to 2025 and we’re proud to have achieved a pay offer which provides for the lowest paid in the company with significant underpinning to ensure that those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis receive proportionately the most.

‘This offer shows what can be achieved when employers and unions are able to negotiate in good faith. It is significantly better than the offer put by the Rail Delivery Group, which we have rejected.

‘On every issue — job security, pay and conditions — the RDG offer falls short and is shackled by Government interference. They need to look at what can be achieved when negotiations are not hindered and come back to the table with an improved offer that allows us to resolve this dispute once and for all.’

Ms Rayner argued striking workers are not taking action at a ‘drop of a hat’, saying they will ‘lose their pay at a time when they will need it most’ because of the action.

‘This is a militant Government that is not dealing with the issues and not resolving this strike action and it’s frustrating,’ she told BBC Breakfast.

‘The system is absolutely crumbling without the strikes. Anyone who gets on a train now in the North knows that you’re praying if you’re going to get to where you need to get to. Many businesses are now losing staff because they can’t get to work.

‘It’s a complete shambles of the Government’s making and they really need to get off their hands and resolve this.

‘When I speak to the trade unions they’re very clear they do not want to go on strike, they want to resolve this dispute, it’s this Government that seems to want to ratchet it up and want to attack workers rights and cause this disruption.’

Mr Lynch said a new pay rise offer of 9 per cent over this year, backdated to January, and next will be put to workers in a referendum. The offer also includes no compulsory redundancies until 2025.

But Mr Lynch said the union will encourage members to reject it. The result will be announced on Monday.

It means that next week’s strikes will go ahead come what may, but the December 24-27 and January action will be called off if members accept it.

However, a separate 8 per cent pay offer from 14 train companies covering most of the country, which are also involved in the dispute, won’t be put to members. This also includes a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies until April 2024.

It means there’s likely to be considerable disruption in the coming weeks even if the Network Rail offer is accepted.

Mr Lynch added: ‘At the minute we haven’t got anything that’s acceptable to us and we feel we’ve been compelled to take this action because of the intransigence of the government. What we’ve been presented with is an extremely detrimental offer.

‘It’s very poor in relation to the pay elements and our members simply aren’t in a position to accept the changes that the companies have put on the table.’

The RMT claims the train operators’ offer would lead to job losses because it includes accepting the closure of some ticket offices and more guardless trains being rolled out across the network.

Mr Lynch denied that putting the Network Rail offer to members and calling off the overtime ban signalled that he was ‘under pressure’.

But industry insiders said he was facing a growing backlash from workers angered by the overtime ban as it’s a lucrative option for them at this time of year. Many are also said to be angry at having lost thousands of pounds already due to national strikes the union has been calling for since June. Internal industry estimates suggest some workers stand to lose more than £4,000.

Former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke tweeted: ‘This is dreadful by the RMT – ruining people’s Christmases with an 8% pay rise over two years on the table (and no compulsory redundancies).

‘The railway received £16billion – £600/household – in emergency funding during Covid and drivers’ median salary is £59k, staff’s is £44k.’ 

It came as No 10 said it was leaving the door open to tougher anti-strike laws. 

The RMT picket line at Elephant and Castle station on November 10, 2022 in London

The RMT picket line at Elephant and Castle station on November 10, 2022 in London

Ministers introduced ‘minimum service’ legislation to Parliament last month which will force union barons to ensure a certain number of trains run on strike days. But it won’t come into force until next year and does not apply to non-transport sectors. 

While there are no current plans to widen its scope, No 10 yesterday said the situation was being kept under review.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We are keeping under review what is the right balance with regards to strikes. We won’t hesitate to bring forward changes if we judge they are required.’ 

Sir Keir Starmer rejected calls for tougher anti-strike laws to better protect the public from crippling walkouts.

Speaking in Leeds yesterday, the Labour leader was asked if the party would repeal the minimum services legislation.

He said: ‘I don’t think more legislation restricting the right to strike is the right way forward. I think the Government should fix the underlying problem. The Government should get off its hands, and it’s been sitting on its hands throughout these disputes.’

Rail workers, ambulance staff, firefighters, teachers, security guards, cleaners, porters and driving examiners are also planning action that will affect every day until Christmas. The unions are fighting for sharp pay rises for members to reflect inflation, which is running at 11 per cent.

But government officials say this is unaffordable, and would cost the taxpayer more than £28billion.

HAVE YOU CANCELLED YOUR CHRISTMAS/NYE PLANS BECAUSE OF THE STRIKES? Email jacob.thorburn@mailonline.co.uk   



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