Train strikes this week to coincide with Eurovision song contest

Image above: A Southwestern Railway train at Chiswick Station

Strikes will go ahead on 12 May, 31 May & 3 June – with worker overtime slashed

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the Aslef union have announced a new round of strikes that will affect major events over the next month.

The Aslef union, representing train drivers, has announced its members will take strike action this coming Friday (12 May), Wednesday 31 May and Saturday 3 June.

Additionally, non-contractual overtime will be withdrawn on this coming Saturday (13 May), from Monday 15 to Saturday 20 May, and on Thursday 1 June.

The RMT union has scheduled a strike for this Saturday (13 May), the day of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. RMT members have shown overwhelming support for further strike action, with 90% of the votes cast in favour of more walkouts, extending the union’s mandate for industrial action for another six months.

The strike on 3 June coincides with the FA Cup final, where Manchester City and Manchester United will face each other at Wembley, and is likely to cause significant disruption to those travelling to watch the game.

Stations likely to be affected include: Chiswick, Chiswick Park, Gunnersbury, Acton Town, Kew Bridge, Brentford and South Acton.

Images above: Chiswick Station sign showing train cancellations

Fresh pay offer described as “risible” 

The strikes are a result of disputes over pay offers and working conditions. Aslef has rejected a 4% pay offer from the 16 train companies with which it remains in dispute. They say the proposal is inadequate considering the rate of rising inflation and the lack of pay increases for drivers since 2019.

Aslef described the 4% pay offer as “risible”. General Secretary Mick Whelan said:

“Our executive committee met this morning and rejected a risible proposal we received from the RDG.

“The proposal – of just 4 per cent – was clearly not designed to be accepted, as inflation is still running north of 10 per cent and our members at these companies have not had an increase for four years.

“The RDG, in turn, rejected our proposals to modernise Britain’s railways and help them run more efficiently, for passengers and for businesses, in the 21st century.”

The rail companies affected by the Aslef drivers’ strike include Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, GTR Great Northern Thameslink, London North Eastern Railway, Northern Trains, Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, South Western Railway, SWR depot drivers, SWR Island Line, and TransPennine Express.

Image above: RMT members on the picket line in Acton; Twitter @Rogerablackwell 

“Huge anger amongst rail workers”

The RMT union’s strike is a response to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) rejecting their proposals to ‘modernise’ the railways and ‘improve efficiency’, while offering a 5% first-year payment only if the union terminates its industrial mandate.

The RMT’s General Secretary Mick Lynch has regularly condemned attempts by private rail operators to ‘modernise’ the railways, which he says is code for automating jobs, cutting key services and putting passenger safety at risk. Mr Lynch said:

“The RDG have reneged on their original proposals and torpedoed these negotiations. No doubt their decision is due to pressure exerted on them by the Tory Government.”

Following the RMT re-ballot, he added:

“It is clear from these results that members are not prepared to accept a pay offer based on mass job cuts and major attacks on their terms and conditions.

“This sends a clear message to the employers that the huge anger amongst rail workers is very real and they need to recognise that fact, face reality and make improved proposals.”

The RMT’s dispute affects rail workers (including cleaners and front of house staff) from operators such as Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, South Eastern, South Western Railway, Transpennine Express, Avanti West Coast, West Midlands Trains, and GTR (including Gatwick Express).

Image above: Transport Secretary Mark Harper, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch

Transport Secretary condemns strikes during Eurovision 

Following the recent ballot by the RMT, an RDG spokesperson said:

“While the outcome of the ballot is disappointing, sadly it is also unsurprising during an on-going dispute such as this.

“The vote that really matters is for the deal on the table developed in conjunction with RMT negotiators but then subsequently rejected out of hand in unflattering terms by their executive committee, without giving their membership a single chance to have their say.

“The RMT membership would be forgiven for wondering why they are only ever offered a vote to extend this dispute and a never vote to end it.”

The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said strikes should not be going ahead during Eurovision. Instead of striking, Mr Harper said UK rail workers should be working in solidarity with Ukrainian rail workers, many of whom have been killed by Russian forces during the war in Ukraine. He told Sky News:

“I think it’s very damaging that the rail unions are calling a strike specifically targeting the Eurovision Song Contest.

“I’ve met with the head of Ukrainian Railways. The Ukrainian railways have been specifically targeted by Vladimir Putin. Rail workers are being killed in their hundreds.

“And I would have thought, frankly, rail workers would have wanted to stand in solidarity with them rather than targeting the Eurovision Song Contest, which, if you remember, it’s not our song contest.

“We are hosting it, but we’re hosting it for Ukraine and I think cynically targeting events that hard-working, working men and women across the country are spending their money on to try and attend and targeting those I think is very cynical.”