Britain is facing its biggest rail strikes in three decades after last-minute talks between a union and train companies failed to agree on pay.
Frustrated passengers in England, Scotland, and Wales are now dealing with severe disruption in what is the largest rail strike in 30 years as they scramble to find transport alternatives for their daily commutes.
Up to 40,000 staffers are staging a walkout on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday this week in protest over pay and job security.
This week’s strike will shut down most of the UK’s rail network, bringing the country to a complete standstill. Only about 4,500 of the usual 20,000 daily services are expected to run.
The London Underground was also mostly closed due to a separate strike, leaving passengers chaotically looking for other modes of transport to get them in and around the city.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson long faced pressure to do more to help British households facing the toughest economic hit in decades amid the cost of living crisis.
He said the rail strikes will heavily impact businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic, claiming unions are “harming the very people they claim to be helping.”
“By going ahead with these rail strikes, they are driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers, whilst also impacting businesses and communities across the country,” Johnson said on Tuesday.
But unions claim the strikes are justified and could mark the start of a “summer of discontent” as a result of surging food and fuel prices pushing inflation towards 10 percent.
“Our campaign will run for as long as it needs to run,” Mick Lynch, secretary-general of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union, said on Monday.
Unions say the government, which sets the rules for train companies, failed to give firms enough to offer a significant pay increase.
“The dead hand of this Tory government is all over this dispute,” Lynch added.
The RMT, which represents rail staffers, is calling for a pay rise of at least 7 percent.
The union said employers offered just 2 percent, with the possibility of 1 percent more but only if workers accept proposed job cuts.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government would change the law to force train operators to deliver a minimum service on strike days.
He said this will allow other workers to temporarily replace those staff who have walked out.
“What we will do in the future is we’ll make sure we’ve put in some additional protections in place for the traveling public, for example through minimal service levels,” he told Sky News.
“That would mean on a day like today a certain level of service would still have to be run and through changes to allow for transferable workers, that’s a much quicker change we could take.”
“And there are a number of other technical changes we can make to union laws to make sure the public is always protected,” Shapps added.
Several airports scrapped flights in an attempt to reduce delays over the strike, meaning Brits going abroad now face rail and airline strikes at the same time.
With Post wires