politics

Train strikes: Boris Johnson calls union action ‘unnecessary’ amid second day of rail disruption – live


Boris Johnson calls rail strikes ‘unnecessary’

Speaking from Rwanda, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the rail strikes this week were “unnecessary” and stressed the benefits of “sensible reforms” of the rail system.

I just think it is important to remember that these strikes are unnecessary. I think people should get around the table and sort it out.

This is a government that is investing more in railways than any previous government in the last 50 years.

To have a great future for rail, for railway workers and their families, we have got to have some sensible reforms and that is things like reforming ticket offices – I did a huge amount of that when I was running London.

It is stuff that maybe the union barons are more attached to perhaps than their workers. I think the strikes are a terrible idea.

Boris Johnson: rail strikes ‘unnecessary’ and ‘a terrible idea’ – video

The unions should call off the rail strikes “as quickly as possible”, Downing Street has said, adding it was up to them whether to go ahead with Saturday’s action.

A No 10 spokesman said:

My understanding is there were talks between the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport union) and Network Rail today.

But what we want to see is for the unions to call off the strikes, to continue to negotiate and to come to an agreement with their employer.

We don’t want to see this strike action to continue for a moment longer than it has to.

Asked if this was possible before Saturday’s strike, he said:

That’s a question for the unions.

The government has not been informed of any further rail strikes after this week, the official said, PA reports.

BA strike would mean summer of ‘misery’ for British holidaymakers, Downing Street says

Strike action by British Airways workers would add to the “misery” passengers are suffering at airports, Downing Street has said after hundreds of check-in and ground staff voted in favour of walkouts in a dispute over pay.

A No 10 spokesman said:

This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions and we would strongly encourage both to come together to find a settlement.

We don’t want to see any further disruption for passengers and strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers at airports.

DfT (Department for Transport) will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place and we expect BA to put in place contingency measures to ensure that as little disruption is caused, and that where there is disruption that passengers can be refunded.

Jedidajah Otte

Jedidajah Otte

The largest rail strikes in over 30 years have come at a time of record fuel prices, with more than two-fifths of motorists driving less frequently or making shorter journeys since petrol prices began to soar in March, a survey suggests.

Some 43% of the UK public are cutting back on driving, potentially leaving certain demographics isolated and inconvenienced as a result, the poll by Opinium found.

Some 35% of those in rural areas have been driving less because of fuel costs, compared with 31% of those in suburban areas and 23% of those in urban areas.

People in rural areas in particular have raised concerns about isolation, and have underlined the importance of reliable public transport across the country.

John Williams, 70, a pensioner from Talmine, Sutherland, feels increasingly cut off from the world, and mainly because of the cost of fuel.

He told the Guardian:

Earlier this week I paid £2.34 per litre for petrol. There is no public transport here. The triple pension lock is cancelled. We are effectively under house arrest.

At the moment I only drive when it’s essential. I have practically given up on going to church because of fuel prices, which I used to do every week. I only shop when I absolutely have to.

After long periods of isolation during the coronavirus lockdowns, Williams has not seen his social life return to pre-pandemic levels, to a significant degree because of the cost of living crisis.

I’m not in as bad a situation as the people who don’t have enough food or can’t heat their homes, but my nearest family are in the Inverness area, around 100 miles from here, and I haven’t seen them in more than a year, mainly because of the cost of driving there. It would be very expensive.

Almost two in five unpaid carers (37%) had also cut down on their miles, as had 33% of key workers and 21% of paid carers.

More than half of all drivers (54%) have changed their habits in some way in response to rising fuel costs, most commonly taking shorter trips (29%), taking public transport instead of driving (18%), cancelling journeys (16%) or avoiding driving to work and instead choosing to work from home (15%).

Opinium Research surveyed 2,000 UK adults online between June 17-21.

My colleague Mark Brown, the Guardian’s North of England correspondent, has this piece on the former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, joining the picket line in Sheffield today.

The 84-year-old found harsh words to describe his view on Labour leader Keir Starmer in response to a question on Labour’s attitude towards this week’s strikes.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and I’ll be taking over this blog now for the next few hours. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter @JedySays with tips or comments.

Summary

Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall

Thanks for following the blog this morning and early afternoon on the second day of UK rail strikes. Here are all the main events:

  • Speaking in Rwanda, Boris Johnson branded the rail strikes “unnecessary” and said “sensible reforms” were needed.
  • More railway workers are set to vote on strikes, threatening fresh disruption in the industry throughout the summer.
  • TomTom figures suggested that road congestion was higher than last week in London this morning, but lower in other cities.
  • The head of the UK’s recruitment body warned that changing the law to allow firms to hire agency workers to replace staff on strike during industrial disputes would not work.
  • Rail union leaders hailed a 7.1% pay deal for Merseyrail staff, which was struck without government involvement, as evidence that it is ministers who are blocking a deal in the national dispute.
  • The second day of strike action resulted in only around one in five trains will run and mainly on main lines during the day. Network Rail said that rail services today would “look much like they did on Tuesday”, starting later in the morning and ending early in the evening, around 6.30pm.
  • British Airways workers at Heathrow voted in favour of strikes in a dispute over pay.

I’m handing over to my colleague Jedidajah Otte who will be keeping you updated for the rest of the day.

British Airways workers vote to strike

British Airways workers based at Heathrow have voted in favour of strikes in a dispute over pay, the GMB and Unite unions announced.

Sky News reports:

The GMB trade union finished balloting its BA members working at Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning – announcing shortly after that 95% of workers had voted to strike this summer.

Separately, BA workers at Heathrow who are members of the Unite union have been balloted too, with results expected on Monday.

In total, more than 700 BA check-in staff and ground handling agents could strike during this industrial action.

GMB is seeking to reverse a 10% pay cut on workers imposed during the pandemic. BA says it has offered a 10% one-off bonus, but not a return to the same pay as before.

A BA spokesperson said:

After a deeply difficult two years which saw the business lose more than £4bn, these colleagues were offered a 10% payment for this year which was rejected.

We remain fully committed to talks with our trade unions about their concerns and we hope that together we can find a way to reach an agreement in the best interests of our people and our customers.

The Times’ transport correspondent Ben Clatworthy has tweeted that a Network Rail spokesperson said the number of people using its stations on the first day of the rail strikes on Tuesday was between 12% and 18% of normal levels.

PA reports that although the spokesperson didn’t report figures for today, he believed these to be similar.

STRIKES LATEST: A Network Rail spokesman said the number of people using its stations on the first day of the rail strikes on Tuesday was between 12% and 18% of normal 🚂#RailStrikes #RMTUnion #tttot

— Ben Clatworthy (@benclatworthy) June 23, 2022

An academic at the University of Bristol has pointed out that the UK government failed in its attempt to change the law to allow strikers to be replaced with agency workers in 2015, and the move remains unlikely to work or to comply with international law.

Writing in the Conversation, Tonia Novitz, a professor of labour law, said:

So why was the idea dropped in 2015? Unsurprisingly, the proposal was rejected by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as an attempt to threaten the right to strike. It was also viewed by leading NGOs, including Amnesty International and Liberty, as “a major attack on civil liberties”.

Perhaps as importantly, the proposal also failed to pass standard parliamentary scrutiny. The Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – the UK’s regulation watchdog – criticised several major elements of the government’s impact assessment of this regulatory change. For a start, the government claimed that 22% of working days lost to strikes could be covered by agency workers, but the RPC found a lack of sufficient evidence for this figure.

The RPC also highlighted the need to factor in the costs of helping employers familiarise themselves with the new law and the impact on productivity. It observed that the impact assessment itself acknowledged that “agency workers may lower the usual productivity of the workplace”, but it discounted this in its calculations without explanation.

Gwyn Topham

Gwyn Topham

The Guardian’s transport correspondent Gwyn Topham has spoken to unions and recruiters about their views on government moves to allow agency workers to replace striking staff.

The TUC said it was a cynical and unworkable move, while rail unions dismissed it as “playing to the gallery”. Network Rail has said most of the roles which have most affected train services during the strike, particularly signalling, cannot be filled by agency staff.

Matthew Taylor

Climate justice groups have joined RMT picket lines across the UK to support the rail strike and argue the government must invest in public transport to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, writes the Guardian’s environment correspondent, Matthew Taylor.

Jedidajah Otte

Jedidajah Otte

Guardian reporter Jedidajah Otte has spoken to a father of two whose child had to wake up at 6am to be driven to school by car to take one of their final GCSE exams, instead of making their usual train commute.

John, 47, a project manager from Epsom, said he had nothing against the rail strikes in principle but questioned the timing of the walkouts and how they affect exams.

He said:

It was an unnecessary aggravation which schools have had to plan around with no flexibility to change the dates. The exams had to go ahead. My child started their physics exam at 9am, and the disruption really didn’t help matters.

He felt more consideration could have been given to young people, who, like his two children, have had their education already majorly disrupted during the pandemic.

I understand why the strike is happening, my issue is the ‘when’. The potential long-term impact of how this has been set up could really affect people’s life chances. Also, if a generation of pupils associate the strikes with exam stress – it just seems counterproductive.

RMT picketers near King’s Cross station told a PA reporter they have been given homemade flapjacks and sweets from supportive members of the public.

One man admitted he had expected more of an “adverse reaction” before the rail strikes began on Tuesday.

Noting a bag of “fun-size” chocolates nearby, he said:

That was delivered by a lady who came on Tuesday, she’s actually been twice to us now.

She’s coming along saying: ‘You guys are doing a great job, well done for doing what you’re doing because it’s needed in this country – someone needs to make a stand.’

We’ve had people bringing us gifts along, things to eat, water, homemade flapjacks, foods, to make sure we’re looked after.

At the opposite end of the station, another man with a red RMT flag appeared to be conducting a protest of one.

“Solidarity, man,” said one passerby, as he laid his flag on the floor to tie his shoelace.

Boris Johnson calls rail strikes ‘unnecessary’

Speaking from Rwanda, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the rail strikes this week were “unnecessary” and stressed the benefits of “sensible reforms” of the rail system.

I just think it is important to remember that these strikes are unnecessary. I think people should get around the table and sort it out.

This is a government that is investing more in railways than any previous government in the last 50 years.

To have a great future for rail, for railway workers and their families, we have got to have some sensible reforms and that is things like reforming ticket offices – I did a huge amount of that when I was running London.

It is stuff that maybe the union barons are more attached to perhaps than their workers. I think the strikes are a terrible idea.

Boris Johnson: rail strikes ‘unnecessary’ and ‘a terrible idea’ – video

Members of the RMT union have been pictured this morning picketing outside Central Station in Glasgow.

A picket line is seen outside Central Station as the second 24-hour rail strike is under way across Scotland.
A picket line is seen outside Central Station as the second 24-hour rail strike is under way across Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

More railway workers to vote on further strikes

More railway workers are to vote on strikes, threatening fresh disruption in the industry throughout the summer, it has been announced.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) served notice to ballot dozens of members at TransPennine Express (TPE), which runs trains across northern England and Scotland, for strike action and action short of a strike in a dispute over pay, conditions and job security.

PA reports:

The union is demanding a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies for 2022, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions, and a pay increase which reflects the rising cost of living.

The ballot opens on 29 June and closes in mid-July, so the earliest that industrial action could be taken is 27 July.

The TSSA is also balloting its members in Network Rail, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast, Northern, LNER, C2C and Great Western Railway (GWR) in an escalating dispute across the railway.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Our members at TransPennine Express are seeking basic fair treatment in the teeth of a crippling cost-of-living crisis.

“Rail workers were hailed as heroes in the pandemic and now they deserve a real-terms pay rise which keeps pace with inflation, rather than shouldering the burden of the Tories’ economic meltdown.

“Our demands are simple – pay which reflects the times we live in, a deal which delivers job security, and no race to the bottom on terms and conditions.

“It’s time the government changed course. Instead of making cuts across our railway, the Department for Transport should either give TransPennine and other companies the signal to make us a reasonable offer, or ministers should come to the negotiating table and speak to us directly.

“The alternative is a fast-approaching summer of discontent across our rail network. Make no mistake, we are preparing for all options, including co-ordinated strike action which would bring trains to a halt.”

Jedidajah Otte

Jedidajah Otte

In North Yorkshire only a few operators are running a handful of trains today, with Selby station being among those left with no services at all.

Because of the Arriva Bus strike there are few options for people without a car, YorkMix reports.

Graham Watson, who runs G’s Taxis in the town, said demand for taxis is “manic”.

“As an ex-bus driver with Arriva in Selby, I totally understand what the other drivers are doing strike wise and as I’ve been in the public transport sector for 23 years I totally understand what the train drivers are doing,” he said.

“What has amazed me is the amount of people that are actually stuck in limbo and tell me they don’t have cars.

“I have been totally inundated from people that are basically saying: ‘Help! We’re stranded. We’ve got no way to get to Goole, York or Leeds.’ This week has been a real eye-opener.”

Graham said coping with the demand was difficult, and that he has been working with other firms to serve customers and has made phone calls to match people with available taxis.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and covering the blog for a while for my colleague Rachel. Feel free to get in touch if you have anything to flag, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can email me.

Broadband provider Virgin Media O2 has said “millions more people” are working from home during this week’s rail strikes.

A spokesperson said:

Due to the nationwide strikes this week, millions more people are working from home and relying on their broadband services.

Virgin Media O2 saw a peak 5% week-on-week lift on Tuesday in its broadband upstream traffic, due to the increase of video calls on platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The company also saw a 10% week-on-week increase in downstream traffic, with levels up around 1.5 terabits per second (Tbps) to 17.0Tbps over the day.

Road congestion levels higher in London, lower in other cities

Location technology firm TomTom has published figures showing the level of road congestion at 9am was higher than the same time last week in London, but was lower or relatively stable in several other cities.

  • In London, congestion levels increased from 75% on 16 June to 83% today.
  • In Glasgow, congestion levels fell from 40% to 36%.
  • In Liverpool, congestion levels fell from 49% to 47%.
  • In Manchester, congestion levels rose from 64% to 66%.

The figures reflect the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions.

Allowing firms to hire agency workers ‘won’t work’, warns recruitment head

Changing the law to allow firms to hire agency workers to replace staff on strike during industrial disputes will not work, the head of the UK’s recruitment body has warned.

PA reports that Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), said changes announced by the government on Thursday were being made with no consultation with agencies and agency workers.

He said:

It is not something agencies want, and will not achieve the goals the government claims.

This is a fundamental change to the regulations that govern recruitment businesses, and the industry is strongly opposed to it – it is not a pro-business move. We urge government to drop their plans and think again.

In practice, this change in legislation will not work. Inserting agency workers into strikes will only lengthen disputes.

It will also not provide the workers that government wants, and it puts agencies and agency workers in a very difficult position, with potential health and safety and reputational risks to consider.

Agency workers are in high demand, and most will not choose a job that forces them to cross a picket line over another where they do not have to.

Ministers pointed out that under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikers, saying it can have a “disproportionate impact”.

The legislation will repeal the “burdensome” legal restrictions, giving businesses impacted by strike action the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses that can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice, said the government.

Unions and opposition parties have strongly criticised the announcement.

Joanne Galbraith-Marten, director of employment relations and legal services at the Royal College of Nursing, said:

This change would be undemocratic and unsafe.

Any industrial action by our members is very carefully planned to keep patients safe already – bringing in less qualified or agency workers instead could put patients at risk.

Health professionals face the most draconian anti-trade union laws. The government curtails their right to be heard because it knows it is failing them. Silencing health workers silences the patient voice too. Any attempts to further limit workers’ rights to challenge their unfair treatment will be strongly resisted.





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