RMT leader Mick Lynch addressing the solidarity rally at London Kings Cross in June, Image: Steve Eason / Flickr
After delivering a Christmas bombshell of train strikes that caused chaos for people’s travel plans over the festive season, it seems there will be no easing of industrial action in the new year.
The RMT and train drivers’ union Aslef will, between them, undertake five consecutive days of strike action the first week of January, after a deal failed to be reached with Network Rail.
Transport secretary Mark Harper used his appearance on Times Radio to call on Mick Lynch and RMT leaders to get “off the picket line and round the negotiating table” as passengers face what has been called the worst week of rail disruption for 30 years.
Speaking from the RMT picket line outside Euston station, Lynch told Sky News: “I’d go and meet him now if he wants. What we keep hearing from the government is they want to facilitate a deal but they don’t actually do anything … As soon as Mark Harper wants to meet, we are available.”
With both sides claiming they’re keen to settle the dispute, why hasn’t a deal yet been reached?
Here’s what you need to know about the train strikes in the new year:
What dates are the train strikes in January 2023?
Despite widespread, prolonged disruption of rail services over the Christmas period, there seems to be no end in sight for the dispute between the RMT and Network Rail. Passengers can enjoy a brief return to normal services in the few days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, followed by almost a week of travel disruption in the new year.
Train strikes will affect 15 operators across the UK for five days, as industrial action is taken by the RMT and Aslef.
These are dates of the train strikes in 2023:
Tuesday January 3 (RMT)
Wednesday January 4 (RMT)
Thursday January 5 (Aslef)
Friday January 6 (RMT)
Saturday January 7 (RMT)
Morning services on Sunday January 8 will start later in the day as a knock-on effect of the disruption.
On RMT strike days, it’s expected that 20 per cent of normal train services will run across the country, with those that do run starting later and finishing earlier. The train drivers’ strike with Aslef will see even fewer services running.
London Underground and the majority of Transport for London services are expected to run as usual, however TfL has warned that there will be some disruption as a knock-on effect of the train strikes. In particular, there will be disruption on parts of the District and Bakerloo lines, as well as on the London Overground and Elizabeth line.
Why are there train strikes this winter?
With inflation hitting double figures, the RMT is seeking a pay rise to ease the hit the rising cost of living is having on its members. Many of its members working for Network Rail and Transport for London haven’t received a pay rise for two or three years. The union is also fighting planned redundancies.
The RDG said it offered the RMT an outline deal of 4 per cent for 2022, and another 4 per cent for 2023, as well as a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies until April 2024.
However, pay is not the only issue here. The RDG now wants to allow the train companies to run services with only a driver on board, meaning the driver would be in charge of closing and opening train doors. The RMT and train drivers union Aslef says this would be unsafe, and would put passengers – particularly those who are disabled, elderly, or children – at risk of injury.
“We feel that we’ve been compelled to take this action due to the intransigence of the government … we’ve been faced with an extremely detrimental offer and our members simply aren’t in a position to accept the changes the companies have put on the table,” said Lynch.
The railway industry is looking for ways to save money, as it is currently dependent on receiving money from the government to continue running. The RDG says that revenue from fares is still at about 20 per cent lower than pre-pandemic. As well as driver-only trains, the body is seeking to repurpose or close ticket offices to save on staffing costs.
Network Rail plans to cut 1,900 jobs as part of changes to the way its maintenance teams work.
Aslef, which represents 96 per cent of the train drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales, says that many of its members have not had an increase since April 2019.
“That means they expect train drivers at these companies to take a real-terms pay cut – to work just as hard for considerably less – when inflation is running at north of 14 per cent,” said Mick Whelan, the union’s general secretary.
“The train companies say their hands have been tied by the government. While the government – which does not employ us – says it’s up to the companies to negotiate with us. We are always happy to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down at the table and talk – but these companies have offered us nothing. And that is unacceptable”, he continued.
What’s the latest in the dispute?
The transport secretary has denied claims that the government blocked a deal between the RMT and the government before Christmas. Harper told Times Radio that this “absolutely isn’t true”, and there is a “fair and reasonable pay offer on the table. There’s not a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money here.”
Lynch claims that the government thwarted negotiations with by inserting “eight or nine” conditions – including controversial driver-only trains – to scupper a settlement over pay and conditions.
“We were making progress with the train operating companies, and then on one Sunday afternoon before strike action they decided to torpedo talks by putting conditions on the negotiations that they knew we could never accept”, he told Sky News.
The RMT claims that it has managed to reach a pay deal in every part of the railway network where the department for transport is not involved, having secured a 7 to 8 per cent deal for workers on Scotrail, backdated to April this year, and between 6.6 and 9.5 per cent for Transport for Wales employees.
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