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Britons sweat on prospect of summer rail misery

By JULIAN SHEA in London | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-07-06 07:51

An RMT union member pickets outside Victoria Station, on the first day of national rail strike, in London, Britain June 21, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Britain's summer of strikes could be on the verge of becoming even bigger and harder-hitting after train drivers warned that the results of a ballot on possible industrial action over a pay dispute could be coordinated to take place across the whole rail network for maximum impact.

Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, known as the RMT, have already staged three days of nationwide industrial action, with threats of more to come. But now it is train drivers, who are members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, or ASLEF, who are pondering action of their own.

The union has more than 21,000 members who have cast their votes on the issue, with a result expected next Monday. ASLEF spokesman Keith Richmond said that should they opt for industrial action for the first time since 1995, coordinated action would be the "obvious" move.

'Far more disruptive'

"It will be far more disruptive than it has been in the past. We do not go on strike very often," ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan told the Financial Times.

A third rail union, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, or TSSA, which represents station staff members, is also considering action, though Whelan denied that the three groups would take action at the same time.

Britain's rail network is split into numerous different train operating companies, with individual ballots being held. Staff at one company, Avanti West Coast, have already voted in favor of action, and TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said this was "only the beginning", warning the government to "take note".

"We believe (strikes) will have a massive effect," added Whelan, who claimed that his staff members have been offered a pay rise of just 2 percent, along with savings made from productivity changes such as alterations to shift patterns, despite already high inflation being on course to hit 11 percent by October. "There will be a summer of disruption."

Transport State Secretary Grant Shapps has shown little inclination for the government to get involved in the RMT dispute, insisting that the issue is between the union and the train operating companies, so it would seem unlikely to be any more open to intervening in other potential arguments.

"We want to see rail unions engage fully with their employers. Instead, ASLEF is first seeking to cause further misery to passengers by joining others in disrupting the rail network," said a representative for the government.

The British government has expressed that it wants to see savings made after all the financial support the rail industry received during the pandemic, when passenger numbers and income collapsed.

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