December train strikes: Extra walkouts planned over Christmas

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Passengers at King's Cross station in LondonImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Passengers had already been warned to plan their travel well in advance over the Christmas period

Fresh rail strikes have been announced for Christmas Eve with the walkout threatening to hit celebrations and travel over the festive weekend.

Workers at the UK's biggest rail union, RMT, will walk out from 18:00 GMT on 24 December until 06:00 GMT on 27 December amid a row over pay and conditions.

The move comes after the union urged workers to reject the latest pay offer.

The new strikes could also affect many restaurants and bars at a key time of the year for the hospitality industry.

The fresh walkouts are in addition to strikes by rail workers that have already been announced and begin next week.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail's chief negotiator, said the RMT was "playing fast and loose with people's Christmas plans and the new strike dates announced deliberately target vital engineering work designed to improve the railway".

The RMT represents staff at Network Rail, who maintain the railways and include signallers and maintenance workers. The union also represents workers at 14 train operating companies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told the BBC's Today programme that he regretted the inconvenience that was being caused by the strikes. But he said "this inconvenience is being caused by the government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the railway companies and directing what's going on".

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the latest developments were "incredibly disappointing", adding the RMT had "failed to play its part".

As well as the strikes on 24-27 December, industrial action across four 48-hour periods will take place on:

  • 13-14 December
  • 16-17 December
  • 3-4 January
  • 6-7 January

About 40,000 rail workers across Network Rail and train companies are expected to walk out. There is likely to be disruption in the days around the strikes as well.

Image source, BBC Sport

Passengers had already been warned to plan their travel well in advance over Christmas, with some 5% of the rail network shut for engineering works - although many trains do not run over Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Nigel Goddard in Croydon, south London, says the industrial action means that his family's Christmas has been "ruined".

He will not be able to see his son in Newcastle this December, and will miss visiting his six-month old granddaughter over the holidays.

"We have three possible days that we can meet up for Christmas lunch but there are strikes on all three of the days," he told the BBC.

Image source, Nigel Goddard
Image caption,
Nigel Goddard says he will not be able to see his son and granddaughter over Christmas

The last time Nigel saw his son was September 2021. He said he will also miss out on his staff Christmas party.

The rail sector is not the only industry facing strike action, and walkouts are expected to affect postal deliveries, bus services and teaching in schools this month.

Workers are seeking better working conditions and pay increases to keep up with the soaring cost of living, as prices rise at the fastest rate for 41 years.

The RMT is involved in two sets of talks - one with Network Rail and one with the train operating companies.

Network Rail had said the latest offer was its "best and final". It includes:

  • A 5% pay rise this year and 4% next year
  • No compulsory redundancies for workers who are not managers until 31 January 2025
  • A 75% discount on leisure travel for staff and their family members

On Monday, the RMT said it would put the new offer from Network Rail to its members in an electronic referendum. But it is calling for the offer to be rejected offer, describing it as "not acceptable".

On Sunday, the union rejected the first offer from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the 14 train companies.

The RDG's offer included:

  • A pay rise for staff of 4% this year, backdated to the beginning of the financial year, followed by another 4% next year
  • Changes to working practices including repurposing or closing ticket offices, staff having new "multi-skilled" roles and Sunday working where it is not in place already
  • Drivers operating the train doors on more services, although the RDG says guards will still be on board
  • No compulsory redundancies until April 2024.

The RMT will continue to hold talks with the RDG on Tuesday.

The rail industry is under pressure to save money after the pandemic left a hole in its finances, and bosses say reforms are needed to modernise the railway and make pay rises affordable.

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