International

Explained | What is the reason behind the rail strike in the U.K.?

Stationary London tube trains during a strike by tube workers, at the London Underground Northfields Depot, in London, UK, on June 21, 2022.

Stationary London tube trains during a strike by tube workers, at the London Underground Northfields Depot, in London, UK, on June 21, 2022. | Photo Credit: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

The story so far: Train services across the U.K. were severely hit on June 21 as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) launched the network’s biggest strike since 1989. The union has decided to shut down the network’s services on June 21, 23, and 25 since the employers were unable to reach a negotiation with the RMT. The London Underground RMT members staged a strike on June 21 due to a separate dispute over pensions and job losses.

What is the RMT union?

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is a trade union that has members from almost all sectors of the transport industry in the U.K., including mainline and underground railways, shipping and offshore, buses and road freight. The organisation has more than 83,000 members.

The RMT union was formed on September 10, 1990 when U.K.’s National Union of Railwaymen and National Union of Seamen merged together.

Currently, the RMT union has over 200 branches throughout Great Britain. These branches are grouped into 11 regional councils and their main function is to “eliminate non-unionism" and “recruit members employed by those employers with whom the trade union has negotiating rights”.

Why are the rail workers on strike?

RMT union members have decided to go on strike for three days to draw attention to their demands for increased pay in line with the inflation.

Britain’s annual inflation rate reached 9 per cent in April 2022, marking a 40-year high. The Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) rose by 9.1 per cent in the 12 months leading to May 2022, up from 9 per cent in April, the Office for National Statistics said. In stark contrast, the CPI in May 2021 was 2.1 per cent.

Inflation rate in the U.K.

Inflation rate in the U.K. | Photo Credit: Office for National Statistics, U.K.

According to the RMT union, Network Rail (that operates and develops most of Britain’s railway infrastructure) and train operating companies are planning to cut thousands of jobs which will “make the railways unsafe”. These organisations have also put their employees through multi-year pay freezes, the RMT union said in a press statement.

Prior to the strike, the RMT union held talks with rail employers but was unable to secure a pay proposal or a guarantee of “no compulsory redundancies”.

“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. 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 £500 million a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid-19 pandemic,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said. “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,” he added.

On June 21, around 50,000 railway workers, including those at Network Rail, 13 train operating companies and London Underground, were estimated to have walked out.

The an estimated 40,000 workers at Network Rail and 13 operating companies staged walk outs, and further strikes could take place in July. RMT’s action is expected to affect Network Rail and London Underground services across the Great Britain for the whole week.

In 1989, the National Union of Railwaymen workers had gone on a six-week-long strike that ended with an 8.8% pay raise for the employees, The Guardian reported.

(With inputs from agencies)


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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 4:25:51 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/explained-what-is-the-reason-behind-the-rail-strike-in-the-uk/article65553521.ece