LONDON: Britain’s railway network this week faces its biggest strike action in more than three decades in a row over pay, as soaring inflation erodes earnings, triggering fears of wider industrial action.
Last-ditch talks to avert a strike broke down Monday afternoon, meaning more than 50,000 members of rail union the RMT will walk out for three days.
RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch told reporters proposals from train operating companies and London Underground were “unacceptable”.
The strikes — on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday — risk causing significant disruption to major events including the Glastonbury music festival.
Schools are warning that thousands of teenagers taking national exams will also be affected.
But the RMT argues the strikes are necessary as wages have failed to keep pace with inflation, which has hit a 40-year high.
Jobs are also at risk, with passenger traffic yet to fully recover after the lifting of coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.
Countries around the world are being hit by decades-high inflation as the Ukraine war and the easing of Covid restrictions fuel energy and food price hikes.
The strikes are the biggest dispute on Britain’s railway network since 1989, according to the RMT.
RMT members on the London Underground will stage a 24-hour stoppage on Tuesday.
Rail operators, however, warn of disruption throughout the week, with lines not affected by strike action still having to reduce services.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, which looks after the country’s rail tracks, called the strikes “needless” and said they would have a “damaging impact”.
“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,” he added.
The strikes are likely to compound wider travel chaos, after airlines were forced to cut flights owing to staff shortages, causing long delays and frustration for passengers.
Thousands of workers were sacked in the aviation industry during the pandemic but the sector is now struggling to recruit workers as travel demand rebounds following the lifting of lockdowns.