Large parts of Britain have stalled in the country’s biggest railway strike in 30 years, as Boris Johnson called for wage cuts to curb rising inflation.
Railroad passengers across the country have been forced to stay home after warnings to avoid all but essential travel, with only one-fifth of major trains expected to run and many lines closed altogether.
As only skeletal services run for travelers to London and other cities, there were no trains on large sections of the network during the morning rush hour.
Members of the RMT Union have left in dispute over pay, work practices and possible redundancies, including 40,000 employees in the owner of the Network Rail infrastructure and staff in 13 companies operating trains. More strikes are planned for Thursday and Saturday. London Underground workers also went on strike for a day on Tuesday.
RMT management is pushing for a 7 to 8 percent pay rise to compensate for this Inflation is expected to reach 11 percent this year. But Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak plan to say in a cabinet meeting Tuesday that pay discipline and restraint are vital to managing downward inflationary pressures.
“It is right that we are rewarding our hard-working public sector workers with wage increases, but this must be proportionate and balanced,” he said. “Continued higher inflation rates would have a much greater impact on people’s wages in the long run.”
Johnson will dispute that strikes “Expel the passengers, who ultimately support the jobs of the railway workers.”
There is uncertainty as to when formal talks to end the strike will resume. Network Rail hopes to resume talks on Wednesday, and its chief negotiator visited the RMT picket line on Tuesday morning, but the union said it had not received an official invitation while it was open for talks.
Mick Lynch, head of the railroad union, said RMT had “no choice but to protect our members.” He accused the government of “shackling” the railway industry’s wage proposals and using the pandemic as an excuse to impose “transport austerity measures ”, including the closure of all ticket offices.
The drivers are members of a different union and are not on strike until the industry has recruited managers and other front-line staff to work on platforms and in signal boxes.
The railway will be closed until 6.30 pm, village the last trains between London and the cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh, all departing before 16:00.
The disturbances are likely to continue between official strikes, especially in the morning, as trains will not be scheduled to run.
Andrew Haynes, CEO of Network Rail, said he was “deeply sorry” for the interruption, but blamed RMT for refusing to compromise, including on “archaic” work practices.
He said Network Rail had written to RMT, threatening “less than 2,000” layoffs, but hoped it could be voluntary.
Haynes added that ministers agreed that Network Rail could exceed the public sector wage ceiling and propose an increase of more than 3 per cent due to the huge scope for increasing productivity in the industry.
While the government refused to negotiate directly with the RMT, ministers effectively controlled the industry’s finances.
Network Rail is state-owned, while the Department of Transportation sets annual budgets for services operated by private companies operating trains in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic era.
Business leaders have warned that the strikes will affect the worst sectors, which are just recovering from the economic impact of Covid-19.
UKHospitality estimates that the strike will cost the sector £ 540 million – £ 1 billion, as thousands of people will not be able to travel across the country, damaging bars, hotels, clubs, theaters and restaurants.
“This week we are seeing people cancel events, but they are not comfortable reserving them again because they are not sure when the next strikes will come,” said Kate Nichols, chief executive of the hotel industry group.
She said the strike could “deal a fatal financial blow to those businesses that are already struggling to survive”.
The strike means more people are likely to stay home during the week than ever after the latest pandemic blockade, which has dealt another blow to business in urban centers.
“I am grateful that they kept the trains running during the pandemic, but we all came to work. We pay a lot of money – £ 150 a week – to go up and down and we need better service, “said John Brett, a construction site manager who lives in Brighton and travels daily to London during the pandemic.
But Covid’s remote-controlled adaptation means that industrial action is unlikely to be as destructive as previous shutdowns.
The number of rail passengers in the UK has recovered to around 80% of its levels before the pandemic this month, but railway industry leaders said many longer-distance travelers have stayed away.
Transport services will be a priority during the week, but the UK’s supply chains will be under renewed pressure. Between 30 and 40 percent less freight is expected to travel by train during the week, and the strikes will “add additional risk to already fragile supply chains,” said Maggie Simpson, head of the rail group.
Deliveries to power plants and supermarkets will be a priority, but Simpson said the flow of construction materials – 40 percent of which is transported by train – could be disrupted.