The UK is facing a summer of discontent as transport workers in National Rail, ScotRail, Transport for London (TfL) and Heathrow Airport threaten strike action over pay.
Industrial disputes in the UK are at their highest rates in five years as inflation hits pay packets across almost every sector (except for bankers). But the transport sector in particular is taking a stand.
So much so that transport secretary Grant Shapps has said his ministers are looking into making industrial action illegal unless a minimum number of staff worked a skeleton service.
Transport commentator Christian Wolmar says strong union membership in the sector means staff can still take meaningful action.
Wolmar argues that it’s because “the railways were bailed out with enormous amounts of money during the pandemic,” that the government is now unwilling to offer extra pay despite the cost of living crisis.
But doesn’t this punish individual workers who, like any other worker in the country, are seeing their pay drop?
“The government sees this as a political opportunity,” Wolmar says. For them, “this is another type of culture war. It’s saying that railway workers are a well off bunch who have had an easy time of it and are really well paid, and when they go on strike they’re portrayed as militant, and the government is happy with that”.
“Having striking railway workers kind of, in a way, suits them. They can say, ‘these people are disrupting your livelihoods at a bad time’.”
This is the industrial planned so far that’ll be affecting transport this summer:
Members of the RMT union have voted for strike action against Network Rail and train operating companies as a dispute over pay, jobs and safety escalates. The union is claiming it could be the largest strike in rail history, grinding services across the country to a halt.
Announcing the news late on May 24, 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.”
RMT claims Network Rail is planning to cut more than 2,500 frontline maintenance workers.
“We haven’t put a number on what we’re asking for – that is a matter for us to negotiate behind closed doors. We want a pay rise – we’re going into a third year of zero. They haven’t given us a pay rise for three years,”John Millington told the Big Issue.
“If the government told these companies to give these transport workers a pay rise, it would happen” he continued.
The union says it hopes that ministers will encourage railway bosses to return to the negotiating table to figure out an agreement with RMT, but that it will be looking into a timetable for strike action from mid-June.
ScotRail and rail union Aslef have been in talks to resolve a pay dispute that has led to services being cut by about a third, including 700 weekday trains and nearly 350 at weekends.
A large majority of ScotRail’s 1,200 train drivers are currently participating in action short of strike by refusing to work overtime. The train company relies heavily on drivers volunteering to work overtime or on their days off.
Aslef has refused a pay rise of 2.2 per cent this year and a revenue-sharing agreement, the Guardian reports.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, has hit back after attacks by the government and train companies on rail workers for “having the temerity to ask for a pay rise”.
“This government allegedly believes in the free market and trickle-down economics. At least, when it applies to their rich mates. Not, though, for ordinary working people. The reward for workers on the railway, post-pandemic, is to be denigrated.
“Is it up to train drivers to subsidise the privateers, the companies we work for? That is neither rational nor reasonable!” he continued.
When: June 3 (Jubilee weekend), and overnight every Friday and Saturday until Sunday June 19.
London Underground staff working at Euston and Green Park stations will go on strike for 24 hours, coinciding with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, if Transport for London doesn’t take action against a “bullying manager”.
“Staff at Euston and Green Park Tube have suffered years of sustained bullying and intimidation by a manager who has created a toxic working environment,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.
Night Tube drivers have been striking since January every Friday and Saturday nights, causing disruption to the Circle and Victoria lines. The strikes are set to continue until June, with the RMT warning that he could be extended.
British Airways staff at Heathrow Airport
When: Summer holidays
Hundreds of Unite and GMB members working atHeathrow Airport as check in and ground staff have voted to hold for a ballot on strike action to take place during the summer holidays
Unite says the workers were forced to accept a 10 per cent pay cut during the pandemic when planes were grounded on runways. But their full rate of pay has not been reinstated, despite, they say, bosses having their pre-Covid pay rates reinstated, and other BA workers receiving a 10 per cent bonus.