LONDON — Britain’s railway network ground to a crawl on Wednesday after 40,000 staff walked off the job in a dispute over jobs, pay and working conditions. According to railway companies, only one-fifth of all services were scheduled for running in the United Kingdom.
The 24-hour strike by cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff comes a month after the country’s most disruptive rail walkout in three decades brought trains to a halt across the U.K at the start of the summer holiday season.
The dispute centers on pay, working conditions and job security as Britain’s railways struggle to adapt to travel and commuting habits changed—perhaps forever—by the coronavirus pandemic. The U.K. had almost one billion trains in March 2017, compared to the 1.7 million in the twelve months prior to the pandemic. Railway companies seek to lower costs and reduce staffing.
The negotiations are still deadlocked. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers says employers’ latest pay offer falls short amid soaring inflation—currently at 9.4%—and the worst cost of living crisis in decades.
It claims that the Conservative government prevented train companies from making a better deal. It denies being involved in the dispute.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the union “will continue to negotiate in good faith, but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.”
“The government need to stop their interference in this dispute so the rail employers can come to a negotiated settlement with us,” he said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused union leaders of “trying to cause as much disruption as possible to the day-to-day lives of millions of hardworking people around the country.”
He said the strike had been “cynically timed” to disrupt a semi-final of the European women’s soccer tournament on Wednesday in Milton Keynes, north of London, and the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Thursday.
Last month, the union called for three strikes lasting just one day that halted services in large parts of the country.
There are more strikes planned for Saturday when train drivers will walk off, as well as on the three remaining days of August.
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