Great Western and Avanti railway disruption: Union threatens biggest rail strike in modern history

Holidaymakers could be braced for a summer of chaos as unions are threatening the biggest rail strike in modern history in June in a row over jobs and pay.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is considering bringing 15 train services across the country including Govia Thameslink Railway, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains to a grinding halt.

The union has blamed Network Rail’s plans to cut at least 2,500 safety-critical maintenance jobs as part of a £ 2 billion reduction in spending on the network.

RMT has also taken aim at train operators looking to freeze pay to combat the lowest passenger numbers in over 150 years.

The ballot of the 40,000 train workers opens on April 26 and closes on May 24 so strike action could begin in June.

Passengers hoping to enjoy a well-earned holiday are not just facing travel chaos from the railways but also from the airline sector with Unite the union threatening a strike of some cargo handlers at Heathrow.

Strikes in London on the Central and Victoria lines every Friday and Saturday are also continuing until Sunday 19 June after the RMT caused fury in the capital back in March when it held industrial action as commuters return to the office.

Passengers hoping to enjoy a well earned break are not just facing travel chaos from a ballot of 40,000 train workers who are part of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union but also from some in the airline sector (Pictured: Crowds of people pour into Waterloo mainline station)

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is considering bringing 15 train services across the country including Govia Thameslink Railway, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains to a grinding halt.  Pictured: Southern Rail trains stand at Selhurst Depot, south of London

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is considering bringing 15 train services across the country including Govia Thameslink Railway, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains to a grinding halt. Pictured: Southern Rail trains stand at Selhurst Depot, south of London

Full list of train lines that could come to halt if RMT strike goes ahead

  • Chiltern Railways
  • Cross Country Trains
  • Greater Anglia
  • LNER
  • East Midlands Railway
  • c2c
  • Great Western Railway
  • Northern Trains
  • South Eastern Railway
  • South Western Railway Island Line
  • Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) which includes Gatwick Express
  • Transpennine Express
  • Avanti West Coast
  • West Midlands Train
  • Network Rail

The RMT this month also caused a limited service of the TransPennine Express, whose members are also considering the June walk-out, due to strikes over Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

More strikes on this service, which operate the Manchester to Edinburgh and Glasgow routes, are planned for all Sundays until June and the 16 and 17 April, 30 April and 1 May and 4 May and 5 June.

With further travel chaos in the summer looming, Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s regional director, said: ‘Our railway has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and even as passenger numbers start to recover, we know travel habits and passenger demand have changed and the industry has to change too.

‘We cannot keep relying on Government handouts, and so we must work together with train operators and our trades unions to save millions of pounds and deliver a more efficient railway.

‘Our modernization program aims to build a sustainable future that delivers for passengers and creates better and safer jobs for our people.

‘We are disappointed that the RMT has taken this decision and urge them again to work with us, not against us, as we build an affordable railway fit for the future.’

Mr Shoveller added: ‘We would not consider any changes that would make the railway less safe.’

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and the British rail industry, said it has faced ‘unprecedented shock’ to the sector since Covid.

A spokesperson for the RDG said: ‘The pandemic was an unprecedented shock for the railway, with the lowest passenger numbers in over 150 years and record levels of public funding to keep it running.

‘Our whole focus now should be securing a thriving future for rail that adapts to new travel patterns and takes no more than its fair share from taxpayers, instead of staging premature industrial action which would disrupt passengers’ lives and put the industry’s recovery at risk.

‘For the sake of our people and everyone who relies on our railway every day, we want the RMT to work with us to bring how we run our services up to date so that it is more reliable, more affordable and inspires more passengers back on board. ‘

The ballot of the 40,000 train workers opens on April 26 and closes on May 24 so strike action could begin in June.  Pictured: London Bridge railway station in London

The ballot of the 40,000 train workers opens on April 26 and closes on May 24 so strike action could begin in June. Pictured: London Bridge railway station in London

Govia Thameslink Railway (including Gatwick Express) could also be set for strikes

Govia Thameslink Railway (including Gatwick Express) could also be set for strikes

The RMT is considering bringing 15 train services across the country including Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains to a grinding halt as train operators are looking to freeze pay to combat the lowest passenger numbers in over 150 years (stock image)

The RMT is considering bringing 15 train services across the country including Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains to a grinding halt as train operators are looking to freeze pay to combat the lowest passenger numbers in over 150 years (stock image)

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Railway workers have had to contend with pay freezes, the prospect of losing their jobs and repeated attacks on their terms and conditions.

‘Removing 2,500 safety-critical jobs from Network Rail will spell disaster for the public, make accidents more likely and will increase the possibility of trains flying off the tracks.

‘The way for trade unions to effectively take on the cost-of-living crisis is to stand up for their members at work and take industrial action when employers are not moved by the force of reasoned argument.

‘A national rail strike will bring the country to a standstill, but our members’ livelihoods and passenger safety are our priorities.’

The ballot which opens on April 26 and closes on May 24 will be among RMT members on lines such as East Midlands Railway, South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, Island Line, and West Midlands Trains.

RMT members employed by contractors Churchill to clean trains will also walk out from 27 April to 7 May on Govia Thameslink, Eurostar, Southeastern and HS1.

Unite members who are employed by Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) are also considering strike action.

It said 200 of its cargo handlers and truckers could also vote for strike action at Heathrow in a pay dispute and has warned airport chaos will continue if the sector does not get a grip.

Their members ‘build’ the freight cargos and then truck them to points at the airport for loading onto airlines such as Air China, American Airlines, Etihad, Singapore and Thai.

They also deal with unloaded cargo from passenger flights, so a strike could cause havoc not just to freight movements, but to passengers boarding and leaving aircraft.

Unite members who are employed by Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) are also considering strike action (Stock Heathrow image)

Unite members who are employed by Worldwide Flight Services (WFS) are also considering strike action (Stock Heathrow image)

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: ‘WFS’s rivals have recognized the current economic situation and now WFS needs to enter into meaningful negotiations.

‘Any industrial action will cause chaos to the freight operations of WFS’ clients, which include a number of prestige international airlines, such as American Airlines. ‘

Its ballot of members closes on Wednesday 27 April.

It also called off its strike action at Luton Airport over Easter as airline passengers have already endured waiting days at British airports for luggage at carousels, canceled flights, enormous queues to check in and just get through security as the sector struggles to return post-Covid.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham also said: ‘We warned the aviation sector repeatedly not to use the cover of Covid to slash jobs and pay. This would render it unable to meet demand when passengers returned.

‘Now the sector is suffering from a chronic inability to attract new staff because workers are not attracted to an industry where pay is poor and conditions are lousy.

‘Bargain-basement wages and insecure jobs must be consigned to the past if the sector wants to get back on track.

‘It’s pretty simple – if you want to thrive, treat your workers with respect and do not attack their jobs, pay and conditions.’

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