2022 Rail Strikes: Why Are They Happening?

A British commuter train at Euston station in London
Share This:

The Rail, Maritime And Transport Workers Union (RMT)[1]RMT Website are set to hold the largest strike action that the rail network has experienced in 30 years – that’s according to some news sources, I couldn’t find any mention of rail strikes in the 1990s anywhere online, and it’s certainly not listed on the comprehensive list of strikes on Wikipedia [2]Wikipedia: List Of Strikes.

Previous strikes aside, the strike action by the RMT is going to affect the majority of the rail network over a series of three strikes that will take place today, 21st June 2022, Thursday 23rd June and Saturday 25th June [3]The Guardian: Rail strikes: which trains and tubes will still be running?.

I should point out here that these strikes aren’t in relation to train drivers – the majority of those are part of the union ASLEF[4]Aslef: The Train Driver’s Union but are instead for employees such as guards, signal workers and canteen staff.

Why Is The Strike Happening?

Over the course of their time in government, the Conservative party enacted a period of austerity in order to get spending and the budget deficit under control.

This affected a lot of the public sector and part-public/part-private owned institutions meaning that they had reduced investment from the government and therefore had to put expansion (in terms of staffing and infrastructure on hold).

While statistics show that overall public spending on the railways has grown massively over the past 11 years [5]Statista: Public sector expenditure on railways in the United Kingdom from 2009/10 to 2020/21, the RMT are citing £4 billion being removed from the budgets of National Rail and Transport for London[6]RMT statement: 20 June 2022 while they have approved massive cost increases for the “vanity” H2 project from £37.5 billion to around £80 billion and rising[7]Institute For Government: HS2 Costs.

It’s important to note though that the large increase in public spending on the rail network may be due in part to the Government having to inject much-needed funds after the network was effectively shut down and not making any profits during the COVID-19 pandemic while still having to support staffing costs.

Additionally the RMT state that many rail companies (there are 25 operators currently in the UK[8]Wikipedia: List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom) are offering pay increases under the rate of inflation which follow a series of pay freezes over the past few years.

The RMT claim that working conditions are worsening with staff being expected to work longer hours for less pay, removing benefits, cutting jobs without guaranteeing compulsory redundancy, cutting corners with safety, closing all ticket offices despite accessibility issues and more.

Recommended  Further Blows To Johnson As Resignations Continue (Updated List)

It would appear that the Government failed to (or refused to) meet with the union regarding working conditions and the upcoming strike action[9]The Guardian: Shapps says it is ‘crazy’ to suggest Tories want rail strikes to go ahead and despite talks with operators, Network Rail and Transport For London (who operate the London Underground)[10]The Independent: Rail and Tube strikes to go ahead after talks fail to resolve dispute they failed to reach an agreement meaning the strike action would go ahead.

There’s a great explainer video by the BBC’s Ros Atkins which covers who is involved and why they feel they need to strike:

Where Will The Strike Affect?

Thirteen individual train operating companies are affected as well as Network Rail[11]The Independent: Why Are The Rail Strikes Happening (who operate the railway infrastructure in the UK).

Approximately 40,000 workers will be involved in the 3 days of strike action which include railway workers, guards, engineering workers, catering staff and signalling staff among others.

Only basic network operations will go ahead over the three days, with the majority of the rail network only operating a skeleton service between 7.30am and 6.30pm on strike days[12]The Guardian: Rail strikes: which trains and tubes will still be running?.

In addition, London Underground workers are also staging a 24 hour strike today, 21st June 2022 meaning the majority of the underground network will be closed.

Even though the strikes are on 3 separate days, it’s expected that there will be a knock-on effect across the whole network which will cause issues for at least a week.

Are Strikes Legal?

Yes. And No.

In order to strike, you must be a member of a union (otherwise you are not protected from dismissal) and some stringent rules must be met[13]GOV.UK: Taking part in industrial action and strikes .

The Conservative government introduced the Trade Union Act in 2015 and it received Royal Assent in 2016[14]GOV.UK: Trade Union Act becomes law. The Act made it much more difficult for strike action to go ahead in a lawful manner[15]Worksmart: What is happening to the right to strike? stipulating that there must be a minimum turnout of 50% of members[16]Tribune: Scrap the Anti-Union Laws and even more stringent rules surrounding protected roles such as healthcare, education and transport.

According to The RMT, 89% of union members were in favour of strike action[17]Railnews: RMT members vote ‘overwhelmingly’ for rail strikes and if correct that figure more than meets the Government’s requirements.

It’s important to point out here that the right to strike is also enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (which I covered in relation to the Rwanda Deportation Flight, so this would be another reason for the Government to pull out of the ECtHR and by association the ECHR as they would then be free to write their own laws regarding strike action – and maybe outlaw it completely.

Recommended  How Can Sewage Be Dumped In Rivers? Doesn't The Environment Act Stop That?

Will The Rail Strikes Work?

Boris Johnson plans to break the strikes with the use of agency workers[18]The Guardian: Boris Johnson plans to break rail strikes by allowing use of agency workers, however it’s unclear how many agency workers are available given current staffing issues due to Brexit. It’s also important to note the safety implications of this move: We saw with P&O Ferries after they sacked 800 staff members[19]Wikipedia: P&O sacking controversy and replaced them with agency workers. This lead to two ferries being seized due to safety concerns[20]Sky News: Another P&O ferry ‘Pride of Kent’ being detained after failing inspection.

The strikes will cause disruption for a large part of the country and if someone has managed to miss the news of why the strikes are happening, they’ll be made aware of it when they try to travel today, Thursday or Saturday.

Strikes are a last resort, the last fight they can put up against employers who refuse to meet requests or even turn up at the negotiating table.

But whether a strike is effective or not depends of on a few factors, the biggest of which is whether there is enough public support for the strike action and the demands behind it[21]Our Economy: We asked economists whether strikes really work.

It remains to be seen how public support will increase or decrease during the disruption. According to a YouGov poll, 23% “tend to oppose” and 26% “strongly oppose” rail workers going on strike, and 23% “tend to support” and 12% “strongly support” the strike action[22]YouGov: Do you support or oppose rail workers going on strike over pay and conditions?.

YouGov UK Rail Strike Support Survey Results

Source: YouGov

At the very least, it’s brought the pay and conditions of these workers into the public domain so that we’re now aware of what the rail companies are doing. Despite increasing prices by 3.8%[23]i News: Rail fare increase: UK train prices to rise by 3.8% in March 2022 – which was capped by the Government[24]GOV.UK: Rail fares capped to prevent high increases for passengers

With the details of the conditions the workers are under, it has now been shown that these increases aren’t being passed on into staff wages and maybe the public will start to question what these companies are doing with the money they receive from us in terms of fares and from the Government as well.

References

References
1 RMT Website
2 Wikipedia: List Of Strikes
3, 12 The Guardian: Rail strikes: which trains and tubes will still be running?
4 Aslef: The Train Driver’s Union
5 Statista: Public sector expenditure on railways in the United Kingdom from 2009/10 to 2020/21
6 RMT statement: 20 June 2022
7 Institute For Government: HS2 Costs
8 Wikipedia: List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom
9 The Guardian: Shapps says it is ‘crazy’ to suggest Tories want rail strikes to go ahead
10 The Independent: Rail and Tube strikes to go ahead after talks fail to resolve dispute
11 The Independent: Why Are The Rail Strikes Happening
13 GOV.UK: Taking part in industrial action and strikes
14 GOV.UK: Trade Union Act becomes law
15 Worksmart: What is happening to the right to strike?
16 Tribune: Scrap the Anti-Union Laws
17 Railnews: RMT members vote ‘overwhelmingly’ for rail strikes
18 The Guardian: Boris Johnson plans to break rail strikes by allowing use of agency workers
19 Wikipedia: P&O sacking controversy
20 Sky News: Another P&O ferry ‘Pride of Kent’ being detained after failing inspection
21 Our Economy: We asked economists whether strikes really work
22 YouGov: Do you support or oppose rail workers going on strike over pay and conditions?
23 i News: Rail fare increase: UK train prices to rise by 3.8% in March 2022
24 GOV.UK: Rail fares capped to prevent high increases for passengers
Recommended  Boris Johnson Is Changing The Ministerial Code

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.