LONDON – Britain faces the second of three national railway strikes Thursday after new negotiations between union and employers ended in deadlock.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union accused the government of “wrecking” Wednesday’s talks and said the 24-hour walkout by 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff would go ahead as planned. The union's action this week is Britain's biggest and most disruptive railway strike for 30 years.
Rail infrastructure company Network Rail said it was “disappointed that the RMT have again chosen to walk away from negotiations. We remain available for talks, day or night.”
The union held a daylong strike on Tuesday that brought the U.K. rail network to a crawl, with only a fifth of passenger services running. Another walkout is planned for Saturday.
The dispute centers on pay, working conditions and job security as Britain’s train companies aim to cut costs and staffing after two years in which emergency government funding kept them afloat.
The strike pits the union against 13 privately owned train-operating companies and the government-owned National Rail. While Britain's Conservative government insists it is not involved in the dispute, the union notes that it plays a major role in the heavily regulated industry.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put blame for the strike squarely on the union.
The railway union's leader, General Secretary Mick Lynch, said the government had “wrecked these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members.”
He said there could not be a settlement unless the government agreed to “unshackle” the train companies and let them offer the union better terms than the 3% pay raise on the table so far. Britain’s inflation rate hit 9.1% in May, as Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezes supplies of energy and food staples, even as post-pandemic consumer demand is soaring.
The government warned that big raises would spark a wage-price spiral driving inflation even higher.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the union’s claim he had meddled was “a total lie.”
“I have had absolutely nothing to do with either the issuing of a letter from Network Rail, the employer, to the RMT — or any request to withdraw it,” he said.
Unions have told the country to brace for more as workers face the worst cost-of-living squeeze in more than a generation. Lawyers are planning a walkout, and unions representing teachers and postal workers both plan to consult their members about possible actions.