Tens of thousands of railway workers have walked off their jobs in the UK, bringing the train network to a crawl in the country’s biggest transit strike for more than 30 years.
About 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff were holding a 24-hour strike, with two more planned for Thursday and Saturday. Compounding the pain for commuters, London Underground subway services were also hit by a walkout on Tuesday.
The dispute centres on pay, working conditions and job security as the UK’s railways struggle to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
There were almost 1 billion train journeys in the UK in the year to March. But that is well below pre-COVID-19 levels, and train companies, which were kept afloat with government support during the past two years, are seeking to cut costs and staffing.
Major stations were largely deserted on Tuesday morning, with only about 20 percent of passenger trains scheduled to run.
Last-minute talks on Monday failed to make a breakthrough. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union says it will not accept rail firms’ offer of a 3 percent raise, which is far below the rate of inflation, currently running at 9 percent.
The union accuses the Conservative government of refusing to give rail firms enough flexibility to offer a substantial pay increase.
The government says it is not involved in the talks, but has warned that big raises will spark a wage-price spiral driving inflation even higher.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused unions of “harming the very people they claim to be helping” and called for “a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce”.