FA Cup final day hit by fresh wave of train strikes

Train drivers have voted to stage three fresh strikes in their long-running row over pay, including strikes on FA Cup final day. Meanwhile, industrial action has also intensified in other areas of public service.

Members of the Aslef union will walk out on 12 and 31 May, and then again when Wembley Stadium hosts Manchester City and Manchester United in the FA Cup final on 3 June. That date is also in the sporting calendar for the Epsom Derby.

The train drivers’ union said it has rejected a “risible” 4 per cent pay offer from the 16 train companies with whom it remains in dispute. General secretary Mick Whelan said drivers have not had a pay rise at these companies since 2019.

Whelan said: “Our executive committee met this morning and rejected a risible proposal we received from the Rail Delivery Group (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.

“Consequently, we have today announced three more days of strike action on Friday May 12, Wednesday May 31 and Saturday June 3 at the companies with which we are in dispute, and which are letting down passengers, and taxpayers, so badly.

“We are also withdrawing non-contractual overtime from Monday May 15 to Saturday 20 inclusive, as well as on Saturday May 13 and Thursday June 1.”

Train operating companies involved in the dispute are: 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, TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

Aslef said its negotiating team has met representatives of the employers on eight occasions over the past year to try to find a resolution to the long-running dispute.

The union said it took eight one-day strikes to bring the train operators and the government “to their senses and persuade them to sit down and talk properly”.

Whelan added: “We do not want to go on strike, we do not want to inconvenience passengers, we have families and friends who use the railway, too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of this country, but the blame for this action lies, fairly and squarely, at the feet of the employers who have forced our hand over this by their intransigence.

“It is now up to them to come up with a more sensible, and realistic, offer and we ask the government not to hinder this process.”

Authorities at London’s Metropolitan Police have already ordered the kick-off time for the FA Cup final to be moved back to 3pm, instead of 4:45pm or 5:30pm, for the first time in over a decade, as they consider the match to be a high-risk event. The last direct train leaving London for Manchester on 3 June is currently timetabled for approximately 9pm (the 21:01 service from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly). It is unknown what precise effect the scheduled train strikes will have on supporters’ travel plans on the day.

Related strike action in July 2022 was also timed to coincide with major sporting events, in that case the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the start of the new season for the majority of English football league clubs.

This year, the 12 May train strike will be held the day before the Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “This is disappointing news for our customers and staff; more strike action is totally unnecessary and will only heap more pressure on an industry already facing an acute financial crisis.

“Senselessly targeting both the final of Eurovision and the FA Cup final is disappointing for all those planning to attend. After many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership, today we made a revised and fair offer including a pay rise of 8 per cent over two years.

“It would have introduced overdue, common-sense improvements already in place in parts of the network, which would see more trains running on time for passengers. Sadly, this has been rejected.

“We urge the Aslef leadership to rejoin us at the negotiating table and work with us to find a solution to the issues our industry faces and so we can give our people the pay rise we have always said we wanted to do.”

The latest train strike announcement comes on the same day that thousands of teachers in England were back on picket lines, as they staged strikes in their own long-running dispute over pay.

Tens of thousands of members of the National Education Union (NEU) walked out of schools and sixth form colleges across England, with another strike planned for next Tuesday (2 May).

The union said it believed the majority of schools are expected to either restrict access to pupils or fully close as a result of the strikes. Many secondary schools in England are expected to prioritise Year 11 and Year 13 students during the strikes, with GCSE and A-level exams only weeks away.

The government offered teachers a £1,000 one-off payment for the current school year (2022/23) and an average 4.5 per cent pay rise for staff next year, following intensive talks with the education unions.

Four education unions – the NEU, the NASUWT teaching union, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – have rejected the pay offer.

Meanwhile, the government has taken legal action against the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) over its planned 48-hour strike over the coming Bank Holiday weekend.

RCN members working in the NHS in England at workplaces with a strike mandate had been preparing to take 48-hour industrial action from 8pm or the start of the night shift on 30 April.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said NHS Employers had contacted him asking him to check the legality of the action because the organisation believed the strike mandate runs out on 1 May.

Earlier today, a High Court judge ruled that the strike action planned by the RCN for 2 May would be unlawful.

Barclay welcomed the High Court decision: “The government could not stand by and let plainly unlawful strike action go ahead. Both the NHS and my team tried to resolve this without resorting to legal action, but unfortunately, following a request from NHS Employers, we took this step with regret to protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.

“We welcome the decision of the High Court that the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike on 2 May is illegal”.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “The RCN could and should have resolved this significant issue of the legality of its strike sooner. More than a week ago now, NHS Employers approached the RCN to query whether its mandate for strike action expired at midnight on May 1 2023 and not the May 2 they had appeared to suggest.

“The RCN vigorously rejected our assertion and we were left with no choice but to ask the Secretary of State to seek the view of the courts.

“Clarity has now been achieved, not least for RCN members, and the judge has confirmed the position we set out last week: any strike action occurring on May 2 would be illegal.”

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the judgement, Pat Cullen, general secretary for the Royal College of Nursing, said the union would no longer strike on 2 May, but would continue with the planned action on 30 April and 1 May.

Cullen criticised Steve Barclay and the government for clapping for nurses only to leave the NHS to “crumble”.

She said: “This is no way to treat the nursing staff that he [Barclay] has stood personally and clapped for on steps and now you slap the court order on them. Shocking.

“It’s absolutely shocking, in my mind, that any government would drag their nurses through the Royal Courts of Justice. What a way to treat the nursing staff of England. Nursing staff that have held this NHS together while it has been left to crumble by this government.

“Now he decides that the way to pay those nurses back is to use patients’ money, public money, to drag them through the courts, and that is not the way to run this country.

“What a day for nursing. What a day for patients. And what an indictment on this government to do this to the very people that have held this NHS together, not just through the pandemic, but an NHS that has been run into the ground and in crisis, caused by this government.

“The most important thing is that the public trust our nursing staff. The public have stood behind our nursing staff and the way that our nursing staff have stood behind the public, we will continue to do that.

“The nurses’ voice will not be dampened by Steve Barclay or this government.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman described the High Courts situation as “regrettable”, claiming that “the government never wanted to take this to court”.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak has written to Barclay to urge him to meet with unions representing junior doctors, stressing his concern about the lack of engagement and meaningful negotiation, which he said is prolonging the dispute.

Nowak said: “Ministers should stop wasting time and stonewalling negotiations. All of our public sector workers, including our doctors, our teachers and civil servants, deserve a fair pay deal.

“If the government does not reach a fair settlement on pay, the recruitment and retention crisis crippling frontline services will only get worse.”

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Original Source: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2023/04/fa-cup-final-day-hit-by-fresh-wave-of-train-strikes/

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