UK government faces headwinds as thousands of workers take fresh industrial action

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By Euronews
Mick Lynch, second right, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) joins members on the picket line outside Euston train station in London, 04/01/2023
Mick Lynch, second right, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) joins members on the picket line outside Euston train station in London, 04/01/2023   -   Copyright  Kirsty O'Connor

It's been a miserable New Year return to work for commuters in the UK, facing five days of rail strikes this week.

Around half of the UK's railway lines are closed, and only one-fifth of services are running.

Some 40,000 members of the UK's RMT transport workers union are leading the charge. They are taking industrial action again over pay, jobs, working conditions and the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

Transport secretary Mark Harper has renewed his call to union members to stop the strikes and return to the negotiating table. RMT leader Mick Lynch says his members are striking because the government refuses to pay in line with inflation.

Network Rail, which operates the UK's rail services, warned travellers of "significantly reduced" train services or no services at all in some areas until Sunday. 

 Lynch said, "the government holds the key to this and they're not willing to use it at the moment." 

“All the parties involved know what needs to be done to get a settlement but the government is blocking that settlement and doing nothing about this dispute and that needs to change. So I hope Mark Harper and [Secretary of State for Transport] Huw Merriman can move that forward. We think we are going to get a meeting with them next week, but they seem content for the action to go ahead and have done nothing over the past six or seven weeks to move it forward” added Lynch.

“The strikes are unnecessary. They`re not helping and they don`t motivate us to make an offer that we otherwise wouldn`t. It doesn`t drive us to achieve a different outcome than we would achieve through normal negotiation. And I think it`s really damaging the future prospects of the industry and therefore for our employees” said Tim Shoveller, the chief negotiator for Network Rail.

But that's not all. Bus drivers, traffic officers, ambulance staff, nurses, driving examiners, civil servants and teachers in Scotland are all launching strike action in January and February.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to fight calls for inflation-busting rises, insisting the government must stick to more modest increases for public sector workers.

More stoppages are planned for later this year.