The Workers Union has urged Network Rail bosses and striking staff to get back round the table and ‘sort out’ the chaos on Britain’s railways.
The announcement comes as the UK’s rail network ground to a halt today, with only 20 percent of trains running and some areas deprived of trains altogether. Services available to passengers are operating a limited timetable starting at 07:30 in the morning and continuing until half past 6 at night.
40,000 Network Rail employees and 13 train operators have downed tools in a row over pay and conditions, with strike action scheduled to continue on Thursday and Saturday – hitting leisure commuters as well as those travelling for work. The industrial action reflects the pinch many workers feel in the pocket as rising inflation affects living standards and wages stagnate.
In a statement made at today’s cabinet meeting, the prime minister, Boris Johnson said that we need other unions to ‘sit down with Network Rail and the rail companies and get on with it.’
Mr Johnson’s statement echoed comments made by transport secretary Grant Shapps, earlier in the day. Mr Shapps told the BBC that there was a ‘pay offer on the table’ and that ‘the door is open’.
The strike action is also expected to hit Britain’s fragile leisure, tourism and theatre sector with losses totalling £1 billion. The chief executive of UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, said: ‘At the best, we think it’s going to take a hit to hospitality revenues of over half a billion pounds.
‘But that presupposes that many people will travel on those shoulder days when the trains and the Tubes will still be disrupted – it could be more significant than that.
‘And if you look across the whole tourism, and leisure and theatre industries as a whole, you are definitely looking at an economic hit of over a billion pounds.’
The Workers Union Says…
It would be glib to suggest that there are any easy solutions to the rail strike crisis. But the bare minimum that the public has a right to expect is that both sides remain in dialogue with one another. This cannot and must not descend into points scoring when so many people – and businesses – depend on the railways to provide commuter services and leisure opportunities.
The railways are our gift to the world. They are also the principal means of delivering the UK from the choking grip of car pollution and global warming. It seems increasingly shabby that we should torpedo our chances of building the first-rate network that all of us want to see with arguments culled from the 1970s.
Of course the striking rail workers have genuine grievances. Like so many workers in other sectors they are worried about the erosion of their living standards. They are concerned that the proposed “modernisation plan” will kill off ticket offices for good. Their concerns have to be taken seriously. But to get to that place, they must keep their feet under the table.
In the same way, Network Rail bosses have to keep working to find an equitable solution that is both realistic and achievable. It is not easy to sell changes in working practice and resourcing requirements that are driven by technology and the messy flux of modern living. But they cannot make any headway by fighting their battles in the press.
Deeply entrenched positions driven by ancient enmities are rarely a recipe for resolution. It takes guts, determination and diplomatic skill to break beyond those boundaries and come together to find solutions that work. That place has been patiently waiting for both sides to arrive for some weeks now. It is important to the rest of us that they find it, and find it fast.