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'Christmas disaster' rail strikes to cost pubs, restaurants and railways £1.5 billion, as workers set to walk out over pay
5 December 2022, 16:33
Christmas walkouts by railway workers will cost the hospitality industry a combined £1.5 billion, with punters more likely to stay home, experts have warned.
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Last-minute talks between railway operators and the RMT union broke down on Sunday night, after rail bosses offered an 8% pay rise over this year and next year.
RMT boss Mick Lynch rejected the offer because it was conditional on ticket offices closing.
But bosses of pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels begged unions to call off the latest round of strikes, claiming that their businesses would lose out on more than a billion pounds if they went ahead.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents the sector, said: "The sheer number of strike days that have affected Britain’s hospitality sector this year has been unprecedented and the strikes in December will no doubt be the toughest yet, with hospitality businesses set to lose £1.5 billion in sales.
"Businesses, workers and our customers will feel the brunt of it, with lost business, disrupted travel and plans being cancelled.
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), chimed in on Monday, claiming that several smaller brewers closed permanently in the wake of the strikes, as well as higher energy bills.
Nik Antona, CAMRA's chairman, said: "Pubs, clubs, breweries and cider producers are in an impossible position, facing a perfect storm of rising costs, soaring energy bills and customers tightening their belts.
"While the Christmas period usually offers some relief to our beloved locals, driving footfall and sales to offset the incredibly difficult 'Dry January' period, the proposed strikes may also affect pub business due to uncertainty about travelling to and from Christmas parties and family events.
"Just this past weekend we have seen a number of small brewers calling last orders and shutting up shop, which has devastating effects on consumer choice.
"Pubs are cornerstones of our communities, bringing people together and helping to tackle loneliness and social isolation. We can’t risk thousands of our locals closing for good because they can’t afford to operate in the current climate."
It comes as the government considers bringing in new laws to make it harder for worker to go on strike, after a year marked by industrial action across several sectors, as workers push for pay rises in line with inflation and better working conditions.
Thousands of RMT members across 14 train operators and Network Rail are due to stage two 48-hour strikes later this month after union bosses turned down the pay rise offer from the rail delivery group (RDG).
The strikes, on December 13-14 and 16-17, coupled with an overtime ban over Christmas, would result in a month of disruption on the network, the RDG said.
Mr Lynch said the offer "does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long-term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions".
Caller runs through the ten-year build up to the strikes
He added: “The RDG and Department of Transport, who sets their mandate, both knew this offer would not be acceptable to RMT members.
“RMT is demanding an urgent meeting with the RDG tomorrow (Monday) morning with a view to securing a negotiated settlement on job security, working conditions and pay.”
But the union will take more time to consider another offer from infrastructure operator Network Rail, which is also embroiled in a dispute with RMT members.
Network Rail offered 9% wage boosts for this year and the year after, up from 8%, as well as a 75% discount on season tickets and bonuses for staff on less money.
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The RDG said its offer delivered “vital and long overdue” changes to working arrangements.
"This is a fair and affordable offer in challenging times, providing a significant uplift in salary for staff", an RDG spokesperson said.
Conservative MPs slammed the union for going on strike over the Christmas period.
Brendan Clarke-Smith told The Telegraph: "People should be able to go about their business and look forward to the Christmas period with their loved ones.
"It's not right that they should have their festive plans ruined by the RMT trying to hold the country to ransom. They have turned the public against them with their behaviour.'
Former railway minister Paul Maynard said: "This is a Christmas catastrophe for rail passengers. Every time the RMT turns its back on the need to modernise the railway, it hammers another nail in the network's coffin.:
"Passengers will simply not return the longer the RMT strikes."