UK train passengers are set to face major disruption to their journeys this summer after workers voted in favour of strike action at 13 train operating companies.
The RMT union has announced that 89 per cent of its 40,000 members voted to take industrial action this summer in a dispute over pay, jobs and safety. The turnout for the ballot was 71 per cent.
Strike action could start as soon as the middle of June, although all sides have called for last-minute negotiations to try to find a settlement and prevent a walkout which could cripple the UK’s rail network.
Workers have voted for strike action at the following 13 rail operators: Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, South Eastern, South Western Railway, Transpennine Express, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains.
Employees at one operator, GTR, which runs Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express, voted to take action “short of strike”.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Today's overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union's approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.
“Our NEC (national executive committee) will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT.”
In a separate dispute, the RMT is also planning to ballot ScotRail workers on strike action after the union called the train operator’s pay offer of 2.2 per cent “derisory”.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the train operating companies, called for the RMT to “talk to us” to avoid strikes going ahead.
RDG chair Steve Montgomery added: “Nobody wins when industrial action threatens to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of passengers and businesses and puts the industry’s recovery at risk.
“We urge the RMT leadership to behave responsibly, and to talk to us to find a way to avoid damaging industrial action and secure the long-term future of the industry.”
Network Rail, which manages the UK’s rail infrastructure, said that any strike action would be “disastrous for our industry’s recovery”.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, added: “The RMT has jumped the gun here as everyone loses if there’s a strike. We know our people are concerned about job security and pay.
“As a public body we have been working on offering a pay increase that taxpayers can afford, and we continue to discuss this with our trade unions.
“We urge the RMT to sit down with us and continue to talk, not walk, so that we can find a compromise and avoid damaging industrial action.
“Any industrial action now would be disastrous for our industry’s recovery and would hugely impact vital supply and freight chains. It would also serve to undermine our collective ability to afford the pay increases we want to make.”
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, said any potential rail strike by RMT members would have “a devastating impact” on corporate travel.
“Business travel has been ravaged by the effects of the pandemic. To strike at such a critical time for the industry will shatter hopes of recovery for many businesses,” added Wratten.
“We sympathise with the necessity for job security, but the industry must work together as a whole, instead of prioritising the needs of one group over another.”