Union threatens ‘biggest rail strike in modern UK history’

More than 40,000 railway workers are to be balloted in a dispute over jobs and pay that a union says could result in Britain’s biggest rail strike in modern history.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) said staff would be asked to vote on strike action over Network Rail’s plans to cut at least 2,500 maintenance jobs as part of a £2bn reduction in spending on the network.

Meanwhile, workers at train operators have been subject to pay freezes and changes to their terms and conditions.

The RMT said it was the biggest ballot it has undertaken of its members for a single dispute since the union was formed in 1990. The ballot opens on 26 April and closes on 24 May, so strike action could begin in June.

The dispute is just one of many battles over pay being fought across the UK as salary increases fail to keep up with a soaring rate of inflation that hit 7% last month and is forecast to rise to 10%.

The Communication Workers Union announced on Wednesday that Post Office workers were to stage a one-day strike on 3 May. The CWU said the action was in response to a pay freeze for 2021 and the offer of a 2% increase from April this year alongside a £250 one-off lump sum, which officials described as “exceptionally poor”.

The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Railway workers have had to contend with pay freezes, the prospect of losing their jobs and repeated attacks on their terms and conditions.

“Removing 2,500 safety-critical jobs from Network Rail will spell disaster for the public, make accidents more likely and will increase the possibility of trains flying off the tracks.

He added that “thousands of railway workers” had seen their living standards “plummet” and had “run out of patience”.

The ballot will be among RMT members on Network Rail and the train operators Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, Southeastern, South Western Railway, Island Line, GTR (including Gatwick Express), TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Trains.