Next week, signallers, maintenance staff and station workers employed by Network Rail will go out on strike for 24 hours. It will be the first time in 20 years that a railway strike has effected all of England, Scotland and Wales.
Whilst I don’t work on the railways, I’m going to attempt to answer some questions that I anticipate that people will have.
Why is the strike being called?
Following a ballot, members of the RMT union voted to strike for three reasons: Network Rail won’t rule out compulsory redundancies, safety issues, and pay.
How long is the strike?
The strike begins at 5pm BST on Monday 25th May, and will run for 24 hours until 5pm on Tuesday 26th May. During this time, any workers taking part in the strike will refuse to work.
What effect will this have on train services?
Potentially a huge effect. Signallers are among those striking, and if there is no-one there to operate the signals, then trains cannot run safely. Not all signalmen are in the RMT union, and not all union members will strike, so some trains may be able to run. However, I anticipate that only trains on major routes will operate, with services on some minor routes being cancelled altogether.
The RMT gave 10 days’ notice of the strike, rather than the legally mandated minimum of 7 days, and so Network Rail and the companies who operate the trains will have more time to put contingency plans into place. Therefore, nearer the time, there should be information about which trains will run and which will be cancelled.
Will the strike definitely go ahead?
It’s not for definite. Network Rail and the RMT have talks scheduled this week – if a deal is reached that satisfied both sides, then the strike may be called off.
What if I’m booked to travel during the strike?
Ticket restrictions have been relaxed either side of the strike. You will need to contact the company that sold you the ticket, or the operator of the train that you’re booked to travel with, to find out what alternative arrangements have been put in place. But, in general, you should be able to travel either on the Sunday or Wednesday, to avoid the strike period, even if your ticket is for a specific train on the Monday or Tuesday. But please, check before travelling.
Can I get a refund or compensation?
Probably. Season ticket holders will need to contact the train operating company that issued their ticket to find out their policies. If you’ve bought an advance ticket, and now can’t use it, then contact the company that sold you the ticket for a refund.
Will everything be back to normal at 5pm on Tuesday?
Probably not. The reduced services that are run during the strike could result in trains, drivers and guards being in the wrong place. I would expect disruption for the rest of Tuesday evening, with normality mostly returning on Wednesday morning.
Similarly, whilst the strike doesn’t start until 5pm on Monday, there may be some disruption in the afternoon if the train companies make the decision to cancel services and return trains to their depots before the strike begins. I don’t know if they will, but this could happen.
What are you doing during the strike?
Staying off work. Monday is a bank holiday, but I’ve booked Tuesday off as annual leave. I’m not expecting any trains to be running in my area on Tuesday. I can’t drive, and I’d need to get two buses each way to get to work. Plus, if the trains aren’t running, then I expect the roads to be even busier than usual. I’d rather not have the stress of trying to get to work, and, in any case, I have annual leave to take. Might as well make it a four day weekend.
Is this just political posturing by the unions?
I doubt it. Of course, trade unions tend to ally with Labour; we now have a majority Conservative government, and as of September last year, Network Rail is a government body. The RMT stress that this is primarily about job security and safety issues, with pay as a tertiary issue. And as a trade union member myself, I’m keen to point out the advantages of being in a trade union. Going on strike is usually a last resort, after negotiations between unions and employers, and is not taken lightly. Employers can refuse to pay striking workers (or insist that they take annual leave to strike).