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June 15, 2022

Daily Mail – Militant unions accused of forcing UK back into lockdown

Only half of Britain’s train network will run on strike days next week – with a very limited service on those lines from around 7.30am until 6.30pm, rail bosses said today as unions were accused of putting Britain back into lockdown.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators are set to walk out next Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, which will also severely disrupt services on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

As millions of Britons now face the prospect of having no choice but to work from home for all of next week, the RMT and Unite will also be striking on London Underground next Tuesday in a separate row over jobs and pay.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told MailOnline today: ‘I would say it is a de facto lockdown, with all the damage that we know that inflicts not just on the economy, but also to health. The fact is that it is going to cause extreme damage to the economy and the country. 

‘And the fact that it is happening now, when we are barely recovering from Covid economically, our economic growth is sluggish, and after having poured huge sums of money into the rail services to keep them going the pandemic – I think it is both disappointing and irresponsible. And the fact that Labour are actually supporting the strikes – well, they just can’t help themselves, can they?’

Network Rail said no passenger services will serve locations such as Penzance in Cornwall, Bournemouth in Dorset, Swansea in South Wales, Holyhead in North Wales, Chester in Cheshire and Blackpool in Lancashire.

There will also be no passenger trains running north from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and the number of passenger services on the three strike days is expected to be limited to around 4,500 compared with 20,000 normally.

Amid concerns for night-time economy, Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association group, told MailOnline: ‘Trading levels during the strike action could take us back to business levels experienced during lockdown. We are urging the Government and key stakeholders to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible, as night time economy businesses will suffer as we move into a critical period for the sector’s recovery.’

He warned of a ‘catastrophic impact on trade’, adding: ‘This will limit access to cities, events and festivals across the UK, with mounting concerns over staff and public safety. The timetabled strike day rail services across the UK will leave many stranded at night, compromising safety with very few alternative transport services available.’

As preparations were ramped up, the impact was being felt across Britain with in-person conferences switched to online, concerns over music fans travelling to Glastonbury and people’s plans to attend other events cancelled.

It comes after Junction 2 music festival at Trent Park in North London was cancelled last Friday just eight days before it was due to happen ‘due to ongoing industrial action taking place across the London transport network’.

And Dee Corsi, chief operating officer of the New West End Company group in London, told MailOnline: ‘Next week’s proposed rail strikes are expected to bring London’s West End, and the wider country, to a grinding halt. This will be a particular blow for commuters reliant on these services to get into the capital – and other city centres for work – and retail and hospitality businesses that are already struggling with rising costs and staffing shortages.

‘With international visitor numbers still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, it is frustrating to see fresh disruptions that will deter much needed domestic visitors. These strikes will hit our retail and leisure destinations at a time when they should be making the most of our first restriction-free summer since 2019.’

Meanwhile at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today, Boris Johnson urged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to end his ‘sphinx-like silence about the RMT strikes coming up in the course of the next couple of weeks’.

Former minister and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond added: ‘These strikes are destructive and wrong. Across our country more people are seeking to return to work and these strikes will prevent that.

‘They will also stop many people earning money next week. People in Wimbledon want only one thing, that the strike be called off.’

Junction 2 music festival organisers said that while there is no Tube strike scheduled for June 18 or 19, ‘due to the size of Junction 2 Festival and the ongoing industrial action, Transport for London were unable to guarantee that Cockfosters and its surrounding stations will be adequately staffed this weekend, particularly around the time of the event finishing’. 

Open lines will include the West Coast Main Line from London to Scotland via locations such as Birmingham and Manchester – although the last train from Edinburgh to London on the East Coast Main Line will be at 1.30pm.

And the last trains to leave major cities from London on the three strike days will be at 2pm to Edinburgh, 2.56pm to Manchester, 3.05pm to Leeds, 3.31pm to Liverpool or Sheffield, 3.40pm to Birmingham, 3.43pm to Newcastle, 4.09pm to Nottingham, 4.30pm to Norwich, 4.33pm to Bristol, 5pm to Southampton and 5.50pm to Brighton. 

Those travelling to London airports at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or Southend will see some services, but only during the limited hours – while Heathrow trains could be axed next Tuesday due to the separate Tube strike. 

Only around 12,000 to 14,000 services will be able to run on the days following the strikes – those being next Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – because signallers and control staff will not work overnight shifts that begin on the strike dates. That means trains will not be able to leave depots for several hours later than normal.

Next week’s strikes – which the RMT says will be the biggest since 1989 – are expected to cost the UK economy £91million, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Experts said it will cost £45.1million on Tuesday, £26.3million on Thursday and £19.6million on Saturday. More than half of the total output loss will be in London, with a figure of £52million. This will be followed by the South East at £13.5million and East at £8.7million. 

While operators such as Southeastern and Northern have now issued a ‘do not travel’ warning, Network Rail said: ‘Passengers asked to plan ahead, check before they travel, to expect disruption and only travel if necessary.’

Rail bosses said finishing touches are now being made to a special timetable, which will be published this Friday and be in operation across England, Scotland and Wales from Monday, June 20 to Sunday, June 26 inclusive. It is expected that variations to normal timetables will begin towards the end of the Monday, possibly from 9pm.

Network Rail said chiefs are aiming to ‘offer the best service possible for passengers and freight users despite the unwarranted industrial action’, with ‘thousands of specially trained and fully qualified back-up staff’ stepping in. 

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the watchdog Transport Focus, added: ‘Passengers will be disappointed that strikes are due to take place next week. It is passengers who suffer most in the event of strikes, having to cancel plans or endure disruption to their journeys. It is crucial that all parties keep current and future passengers in mind when trying to resolve this dispute. Passengers need plenty of advance information about the services that will and won’t be running to allow them to plan their journeys. They also need to know how to get their money back.’

Tory MP Karl McCartney told MailOnline: ‘Time and again Starmer’s Labour Party fail to stand up for the rights and concerns of working people, with this being just the latest example.

‘His trade union friends are clearly introducing a new form of lockdown but he doesn’t care because in his eyes their interests must come first.

‘It is all because he needs their money. Rail workers, like so many, deserve a fair deal, but that should not be at the cost of others who see their livelihoods undermined.’

Sir Keir insisted he opposes the strikes and accused the PM of wanting them to go ahead so he can ‘feed on the division’. Mr Johnson also claimed a union boss said they would not negotiate with a Conservative Government.

Speaking at PMQs, Mr Johnson told Sir Keir: ‘He has the chance now to clear it up: he can oppose Labour’s rail strikes right now, he can disagree, I give him that opportunity, let him disagree with the union barons who would add to people’s costs in the coming weeks.’

Sir Keir countered: ‘I don’t want the strikes to go ahead. He does so he can feed on the division.’

Labour MP Liz Twist later said: ‘On the eve of the biggest rail dispute in a generation, it’s emerged ministers have not held any talks whatsoever since March. So I ask the Prime Minister: has he met with trade unions and employers in the rail industry to attempt to bring this dispute to an end, yes or no?’

Mr Johnson replied: ‘I noticed one union baron was asked about it and he said ‘I don’t negotiate with a Tory Government’ is what he said, that’s what they said. We all know how much money the Labour frontbench takes from the RMT, we know why they’re sitting on their hands during Labour’s rail strikes. They should come out and condemn it.’

The clashes came ahead of a three-hour Commons debate on the strikes. The Government motion condemns the three-day strike and calls on the rail unions to ‘reconsider their strike action and continue discussions with the industry’. A Labour amendment to the motion states the party ‘does not want the national rail strikes to go ahead’ and ‘urgently calls upon the Government, operators, Network Rail and the union to get around the table and resolve the issues on pay and cuts to safety staff to avert industrial action’.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said talks aimed at averting crippling strikes on the railways are continuing but with little hope of a last-minute deal to avert action that would lead to travel chaos next week.

He added: ‘Talks have not progressed as far as I had hoped and so we must prepare for a needless national rail strike and the damaging impact it will have. We, and our train operating colleagues, are gearing up to run the best service we can for passengers and freight users next week despite the actions of the RMT.’

‘We will keep talking to try and find a compromise that could avert this hugely damaging strike but make no mistake, the level of service we will be able to offer will be significantly compromised and passengers need to take that into account and to plan ahead and only travel if it’s really necessary to do so.’

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