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UK faces travel chaos as unions warn strikes could continue ‘indefinitely’

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - A view of nearly empty railway station as the staff stage a national strike in an ongoing dispute over pay, jobs and conditions in London, United Kingdom on August 18, 2022. (Raşid Necati Aslım - Anadolu Agency)
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Aug 19, 2022 - 08:10 AM

LONDON (AA) – UK’s rail network is once again in complete chaos due to fresh strikes that began on Thursday, with union bosses warning the dispute could continue “indefinitely” unless their demands are met.

Thousands of workers across the UK kicked off a four-day strike due to long-running disputes over working conditions and unfair pay.

Commuters across the country, including the capital London, have been advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

Workers taking part in the industrial action are largely from Network Rail, Transport for London, London Buses and other transport services, and are members of a number of unions.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, accused the government of pursuing a “deliberate policy of prolonging rail disputes for political reasons.”

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, he said the government was using “taxpayers’ money to bailout private train companies,” having doled out over £120 million (around $143.5 million) so far, according to the union’s calculation.

“Using taxpayers’ money to satisfy the anti-union agenda of the Tory party and seek to break the trade unions is shameful and means the dispute will be prolonged indefinitely as the train companies don’t lose a penny as a result of the industrial action and therefore have no incentive to settle the disputes,” said Lynch.

Earlier, the RMT head said Network Rail had “not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train operating companies have not offered us anything new.”

He said officials were holding “secret negotiations with the government about cutting costs by slashing jobs and undermining working conditions and pensions.”

“Network Rail is also threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work if we did not withdraw strike action. The train operating companies have put driver-only operations on the table along with ransacking our members’ terms and conditions,” he added.

In addition to Thursday’s industrial action, members of the RMT and Unite unions will walk out of London Underground tube stations and bus depots on Friday in a separate dispute over pay.

On Saturday, railway workers including train drivers, conductors and platform staff, alongside members from the London United bus routes, will stage a walk out that will further disrupt travel plans for many on the weekend.

Shapps has condemned the mass industrial action and blamed its participants for causing unnecessary disruption to millions of commuters who rely on transport services to go to work and visit family and friends.

“It’s clear, from their coordinated approach, that the unions are hell-bent on causing as much misery as possible to the very same taxpayers who stumped up £600 (around $720 dollars) per household to ensure not a single rail worker lost their job during the pandemic,” he said.

“Sadly, union chiefs have short memories and will be repaying this act of good faith by ruining millions of hard-working people’s summer plans. Businesses too will suffer, with the capital’s leisure and tourism sectors, which have been banking on that summer trade, set to lose millions – a particularly cruel blow given how hard many worked to stay afloat during successive summers of lockdown,” he added.

Unions leading the mass strike, however, argue that their workers are being severely affected by the cost-of-living crisis, with inflation reaching a 40-year high of 10% and real wages seeing a sharp drop.

In June, a mass walk out by members of the RMT union caused one of the UK’s largest rail strikes in 30 years.

 

*Muhammad Mussa contributed to this report

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