Thousands of railway workers in virtually a quarter of Britain’s network have gone on a 24-hour strike, causing yet another “significant disruption” for the second time this week.
About 5,000 workers joined the strike, according to Network Rail, which runs Britain's rail infrastructure. The disruption will affect the system all Saturday and Sunday morning.
The protest action, organized by train drivers’ union ASLEF, is the second significant industrial action this week on Britain's rail network. Some 40,000 workers also staged a nationwide strike on Wednesday.
Almost all services on seven of the 34 train operators were canceled, including regional networks for southeast and eastern England as well as long-distance lines linking London with southwest England, northeast England and Edinburgh.
Britain’s train services are mostly run on a for-profit basis by foreign state-owned rail companies, which receive short-term contracts and operating subsidies from the government.
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said the franchise agreements typically only provided for two-percent pay rises for drivers. “At this time of the cost of living crisis we believe this Catch-22 situation can’t go on,” Whelan told BBC radio.
Rail revenues remain about £2 billion short of pre-pandemic levels and the government has formerly told Network Rail and train operating companies to find savings through “modernization” to fund pay deals.
The union has been offered a package worth 3%, but consumer price inflation has now reached 9.4%.
Steve Montgomery, managing director of rail operator First Rail and chair of the industry-wide Rail Delivery Group, said operators would give bigger pay rises only if train drivers agreed to changes in working practices that would save money. “We're not saying to people 'work longer hours,' but to be more productive within the hours they currently have.”
The United Kingdom, with the inflation rate at a 40-year high of 9 percent in April, is struggling with a huge rise in the price of energy.
Economists say Britain is expected to have the highest inflation among the counties of the Group of Seven (G7) not just this year, but also in 2023 and 2024.
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