The RMT union has announced additional strike dates after rejecting a below-inflation wage offer from Network Rail.
The last strikes by rail workers are scheduled to run from 6pm on Christmas Eve to 7am on December 27, which could affect engineering works and passengers traveling on December 24. Most trains do not run on December 25 and 26.
Mike, a train guard in South West England, explains why he supports union action.
“There are two main elements that make me, and most of my colleagues, stand out. We haven’t had a raise in three years – normally we have an annual increase in the cost of living, roughly in line with inflation. Previously, a compromise was reached through negotiations. In this particular wave of union action this has not been the case, we feel the government is using it as political football and to demonize strikers.
“We are the first to admit that compared to the national average wage, we are quite fortunate – but we want it to stay that way. There are plenty of other roles represented by the RMT that are paid much less than security guards – many platform staff are paid around £25,000. Not having a pay raise for three years is unfair. No worker should have to put up with that at any time, but especially not during a cost-of-living crisis.
“Morale is at an all-time low. We put ourselves at risk during the Covid pandemic by getting key employees around. We were hailed as heroes and to be treated so horribly and demonized by the government now is outrageous.
“The most important element [to the strike] is the shredding of our terms and conditions that we have fought for decades, including a permanent job. We fear that the government and train operators want to remove train guards and allow trains to run only by drivers.
“This would have major consequences for safety. Guards don’t just open doors – we make sure no one comes into contact with the train or in the dispatch corridor. “Trap and drag” – being pulled along the platform – is a serious risk that is greatly increased when there is no human. Drivers would have a series of cameras along the train, but each screen is about the size of a postage stamp. It’s a huge step backwards [that would also affect] those who need extra help, including the disabled, the elderly and parents with pushchairs.
“We are not against modernization and we have done so [done so] but it should be a matter of negotiation, not something imposed from above. We are realistic – we realize that the way people travel has changed, but not as significantly, and the numbers are rising again. We are also concerned about staff shortages in trains and stations – not everyone wants to use machines, some older people find it challenging and they don’t offer the full range of fares. Having no staff at some stations and then no guards on the train will also increase fare evasion.
“We are sincerely sorry about the [strike’s] negative impact on those who travel for Christmas. [But] for us it’s not just about pay, we’re taking a stand against what we consider to be massively negative plans to undermine the railways. We don’t want the track to be like P&O – that’s how everything seems to go. I will lose thousands of pounds this month by striking, but we are going to fight for it.