month of rail disruption has begun, with workers walking out in the first of a wave of 48-hour strikes, as nurses prepare to take unprecedented industrial action.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are pressing ahead with two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail – and 14 train companies – from Tuesday and Friday.
Trains are only running from 7.30am to 6.30pm on this week’s strike days, although many parts of the country will have no services, including most of Scotland and Wales.
But with further walkouts planned, Network Rail has warned there will be significantly reduced services, with trains more crowded and likely to start later and finish earlier until January 8.
Asked if there is a glimmer of hope in the negotiations, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines told BBC Breakfast: “It’s hard to see that today. I’ve learned, you know, through a longcareer, that sometimes the light is just around the corner.
“But where I stand today, I’d have to say that with the level of disruption the RMT are imposing, the way forward isn’t obvious.”
But Transport Secretary Mark Harper said “almost 40%” of RMT members at Network Rail voted in favour of an offer to resolve the dispute despite “a very clear instruction from their union leadership”.
He told GB News: “I think the tide is turning on people seeing that the offers we have made are reasonable, taking into account both the travelling public but also the interest of taxpayers.”
The RMT said 63.6% voted to reject Network Rail’s offer on an 83% turnout.
Meanwhile, talks to avert the nursing strike have failed after the union leader behind the action accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” and refusing to discuss pay.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses were “not getting an extra penny” despite their talks on Monday.
Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now seem set to begin their first day of strike action on Thursday, with a second date set for Tuesday.
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden warned the Government “cannot eliminate” the risks of a wave of strike action throughout the month after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday.
He said ministers will be “straining every sinew” to minimise the disruption, with paramedics, postal workers and border officials among those scheduled to walk out.
Health minister Will Quince admitted that taxis could be used to transport patients during ambulance strikes on December 21 and 28.
He told MPs it is “likely” that category one and two calls “where there is an immediate threat to life will be responded to”.
But he added: “We are looking at ways in which we can provide additional support for category three and category four, including things such as block-booking taxis and support through community healthcare, local authority fall services and community support.”
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