Summer plans scuppered? Gigs, festivals, sport and GCSEs hit in biggest rail strike since '89

8 June 2022, 00:09 | Updated: 8 June 2022, 14:05

A raft of summer events will coincide with planned RMT strikes
A raft of summer events will coincide with planned RMT strikes. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Long-awaited trips to gigs, festivals and sport are under threat in the face of the biggest public transport strike in decades.

Rail workers announced a three day walk out of 50,000 staff ahead of the UK's most anticipated gigs and festivals and alongside another Tube strike.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out on June 21, 23 and 25 in what the union says will be the biggest strike on the railways since 1989.

The dates clash with the start of the Glastonbury music festival which begins on Wednesday June 22.

Elton John and the Rolling Stones are due to play in London's Hyde Park on June 24 and June 25, respectively.

England will take on New Zealand in a cricket test match in Leeds between June 23 and 27, and the British Athletic Championships will be held in Manchester between June 24 and 26.

The final GCSE exams will also take place up to June 28.

There will also be a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London on June 24 and 25 and it is Armed Forces Day on June 25.

Eddie Dempsey, assistant general secretary at the RMT Union, told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "We've been speaking to industry about these plans [over job cuts] for two years, so it's not as if we’re not asking the pertinent questions to try and appreciate what the full scale is [of the cuts].

"Frankly, we've got to the point where our members have voted nine to one in favour of strike action, demanding that we do something about this.

"So we haven't leapt into this, we've got the mandate for strike action, and we've spent the intervening period having last-ditch talks… to try and hash out some kind of solution before we get to the point where we have to take strike action but we haven’t been able to achieve that.

"We cannot get a proposal on pay or on redundancies that will satisfy our people at this present time."

He said that while train drivers can be well paid, they don't make up the bulk of RMT members, whose median salary is £31,000.

It comes as another blow to those with summer plans who are already facing chaos at airports due to staff shortages and airlines overbooking, and huge petrol bills as pumps hit £2 a litre this week.

The RMT also announced another 24-hour strike on London Underground in a separate row over jobs and pensions.

Tube workers will strike on June 21 to coincide with the first rail strike, threatening widespread travel chaos.

Union members voted overwhelmingly for action last month in growing rows over pay and job losses.

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This comes after days of chaos at airports across the country, with easyJet forced to cancel at least 35 flights on Tuesday, with Gatwick the worst affected airport.

Hungarian carrier Wizz Air also scrapped at least seven flights to UK airports.

British Airways cancelled 124 Heathrow flights, although the airline said affected passengers were given advance notice.

There have also been reports of massive queues and severe delays for the last month, due to staff shortages and a huge surge in demand as more people travel post-coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, hundreds of check-in and ground staff employed by British Airways at Heathrow began voting on strike action on Tuesday.

Members of the Unite and GMB unions are being balloted in a dispute over pay which could cause chaos at the UK's busiest airport during the summer holiday period.

The RMT said rail staff who worked through the pandemic were facing pay freezes and hundreds of job cuts.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously.

"We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1% and rising.

"Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system.

"Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This unfairness is fuelling our members anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.

"RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps reacted to the strike plans on Twitter, writing: "Very disappointing RMT Union are taking action that could damage the rail network after taxpayers contributed £16bn, £600 per household, to keep jobs during Covid.

"We're working with industry to reduce disruption caused by strikes but urge unions to come to talks with employers."

The strikes come as fuel prices hit £2 per litre at some motorway service stations.

At Washington South services on the A1 between Sunderland and Newcastle, LBC found a litre of unleaded cost an eye-watering £2.02 per litre.

Diesel costs £2.04 at the same fuel station.

A Gulf petrol garage in Essex and another forecourt on the M6 in Cumbria were also selling fuel for more than £2-per-litre.

Fuel prices are soaring as Brits face a summer of chaos
Fuel prices are soaring as Brits face a summer of chaos. Picture: Alamy

The union said more than 50,000 railway workers will walk out on June 21, adding that the action will affect the national railway network for the entire week.

Angie Doll, Chief Operating Officer at Govia Thameslink Railway, said:  “We are extremely disappointed that passengers across the country now face the anxiety of rail disruption just as we are starting to recover from the pandemic.

“Although GTR colleagues voted only for action short of a strike, unfortunately we do expect our services to be very severely disrupted because of full strike action affecting Network Rail and other train operators.

“We ​depend on Network Rail signallers and engineers to keep our trains moving, and our services connect with many lines and stations managed by other operators whose staff are taking action.

“We will provide more detailed passenger advice and information in the coming days. In the meantime, we urge the RMT to work with Network Rail and train operators to seek a swift resolution.” 

Andrew Haines, Network Rail's chief executive, said: "We continue to meet with our trades unions to discuss their pay concerns and we're doing everything we can to avoid strike action on the railway.

"We know that the cost of living has increased and we want to give our people a pay rise, but the RMT must recognise we are a public body and any pay increase has to be affordable for taxpayers.

"Travel habits have changed forever and the railway must change as well. We cannot expect to take more than our fair share of public funds, and so we must modernise our industry to put it on a sound financial footing for the future. Failure to modernise will only lead to industry decline and more job losses in the long run.

"There are two weeks until the first strike is planned. We will use this time to keep talking to our unions and, through compromise and common sense on both sides, we hope to find a solution and avoid the damage that strike action would cause all involved."