Forty thousand UK Network Rail employees and workers from 13 train operators staged walkouts over pay in Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years.
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LONDON — A day-long rail walkout that is severely disrupting travel across Britain could be just the start of a summer of strikes, Britain’s workers’ unions have warned, as many professions view strikes rather than strikes. wages.
Around 40,000 Network Rail employees and workers from 13 train operators went on strike on Tuesday in the first of a series of planned strikes. It came after talks between operators and UK union RMT failed to reach an agreement on pay, working conditions and possible redundancies.
Just 20% of rail services in England, Scotland and Wales were operating on Tuesday, with further cancellations expected on Thursday and Saturday, causing major disruption for millions of workers and holidaymakers ahead of the peak summer travel season.
London Underground tubes were also operating at limited capacity on Tuesday as staff went on strike.
Unions say railway strikes – the worst in a generation – are backed by staff in other sectors and could prompt them to step up action amid an escalating standoff between government and public sector workers .
It could lead to similar walkouts by teachers, healthcare workers and local government staff, the TUC, Britain’s leading organized labor movement, told CNBC on Tuesday.
“Many public sector workers are waiting to know what their wage offer will be. Unions in education, civil service and other parts of the public sector have already made it clear that if offers are significantly below inflation , they will vote their members for industrial action,” said TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak.
It comes as the UK suffers its worst cost of living crisis in decades, with wages failing to keep up with rising food and energy prices.
Inflation in the UK hit a 40-year high of 9% in May – a figure the Bank of England has predicted could hit 11% in October. Yet the government has sought to keep public sector wage increases well below this.
“Existential crisis” for public sector workers
Britain’s teachers’ union said the profession was on the brink of an “existential crisis” as workers struggled to make ends meet.
The NASUWT has now said it will elect members for a nationwide industrial action in November if the government fails to meet its demands for a 12% pay rise this year.
“Teachers are suffering, not only from the cost of living crisis, which the whole country is grappling with, but from 12 years of real pay cuts that have left a 20% shortfall in the value of their salaries. “said General Secretary Patrick Roach. in a statement on Sunday.
The nurses are also demanding a 15% pay increase, with a spokesperson for the nurses’ union RCN telling CNBC on Tuesday that pay was a “crucial factor in recruiting and retaining nurses.”
The TUC said any decision to strike would not be taken lightly, but urged the government to do more to support those facing pay freezes and pay cuts in real terms.
“We hope industrial action will not be necessary,” Nowak said. “But we need this Conservative government to recognize the harm it has done by holding down public sector wages for so long. It has pushed the workers to the brink. We have teachers and nurses dependent on food banks – this cannot go on.
Strikes on Britain’s railways have led to major disruption for millions of workers and holidaymakers ahead of the peak summer travel season.
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Talks between Network Rail and RMT broke down on Monday after the workers’ union rejected proposals, including a 3% pay rise, in return for changes to workplace practices.
RMT leader Mick Lynch accused the Government of ‘blocking’ wage offers from train operators, calling instead for a 7% to 8% pay rise and warning that industrial action would last ‘as long as ‘it will take’ until workers’ demands are met.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the standoff was “fabricated” by unions and workers were striking under “false pretenses”. However, he again on Tuesday rejected calls for the government to intervene in negotiations, saying it was “the employers’ job to meet with the unions”.
Implications for other industries
The strikes come as Britain’s economy struggles to get back on its feet following the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit-related supply issues. New figures released last week showed the country’s economy unexpectedly contracted by 0.3% in April, adding to concerns of a coming recession.
Business leaders said the walkouts could have major implications for other sectors, especially those already hard hit by Covid-19 restrictions.
This week’s rail strikes alone could cost Britain’s leisure, theater and tourism industry more than £1billion ($1.22billion) as more people stay at home them, according to trade body UKHospitality.
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and market analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the rail strikes have turned operational headaches into a “full-fledged migraine” for the hospitality industry.
“Restaurants, bars and hotels were already struggling under the pressure of sky-high energy prices, supply chain disruptions and ongoing labor shortages, and now the massive walkouts are expected to cause further financial hardship,” she said in a note on Tuesday.
“As the transport network shuts down, reservations are set to plummet as lucrative lunchtime clientele stay home, and late-night revelers cancel reservations amid fears they won’t be able to get home at the end of the night,” she added. .