Christmas rail strikes: Rail barons 'holding country to ransom'

Fury at rail barons for ‘holding Christmas to ransom’ after Mick Lynch threw festive plans into chaos by announcing MORE strikes from December 24 to 27

  • Ministers have accused rail union barons of ‘holding the country to ransom’ 
  • RMT boss Mick Lynch announced fresh strikes from December 24-27
  • The walkouts will consign millions of passengers to Christmas travel chaos
  • Nick Gibb today slammed Mr Lynch’s ‘disappointing’ decision 

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

Boss of the militant RMT union Mick Lynch announced the new action last night after pay talks broke down with rail bosses. 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.


Schools minister Nick Gibb today urged Mr Lynch’s militant RMT union 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.

Schools minister Nick Gibb today urged Mick Lynch’s militant RMT union not to ‘hold the country to ransom’

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

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.’

‘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.’

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

However, 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 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. 

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

Commuters at a train station 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.’ 

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

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.


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