Date: 21st February 2023
The long-running dispute in the British railway industry has flared up again with the announcement of a fresh round of strikes. The trades union RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) has announced four days of action for March and April. The strikes follow the established pattern of alternate days of action, which is designed to lengthen the period of disruption.
In a further escalation, the RMT has called for an overtime and rest day working ban. Restricting rest days – normally Sundays – will severely curtail services on weekends. The strike will affect almost all passenger train operators in England, with implications for those operators who also provide cross-border traffic from England to destinations in Wales and Scotland. Staff at the infrastructure agency Network Rail are also involved. Although freight operators are not directly involved, their services will be undermined by the withdrawal of labour at Network Rail.
The RMT union which represents 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 passenger train operators, rejected offers from employers recently. They say the latest deal did not meet the needs of its members on pay, job security or working conditions. Against a far more widespread landscape of major industrial disputes in the UK, the railway industry will see staff on the picket lines in March and April – taking the current dispute into a tenth month of action by the trades unions. The RMT says members will down tools on 16, 18 and 30 March, and on 1 April. That does leave around four weeks to find a resolution and talks will continue. However, there are gloomy prospects that this dispute will be solved any quicker than those in other critical sectors, particularly health and education.
Very effective strike tactics
Unless there is a significant breakthrough in the long-running dispute, strike action will take place on Thursday and Saturday, 16 and 18 March, and on Thursday 30 March and Saturday 1 April. Union members of fourteen passenger train operators in England will be involved. This follows the established pattern of “one on, one off” days of withdrawn labour. This tactic has proved very effective at disrupting the network for a prolonged period around the strike days. Network Rail staff, who include signalling and safety posts, will strike on Thursday and Friday 16 and 17 March.
Significantly, an overtime ban will be in place too, involving members who work for Network Rail. That means RMT members are less likely to be available for rest day work, upon which the British railway industry relies, particularly for weekend passenger services. The overtime, rest day working ban, and non-rostered Sunday working action covers a much more extensive series of weekly stoppages throughout March and April (17-23 March; 31 March until 6 April; and 14 until 20 April). The action at Network Rail will be split between staff in maintenance and operations roles.