Rail chaos despite no strikes: Fury as services significantly disrupted due to union overtime ban

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Rail chaos despite no strikes: Fury as services significantly disrupted due to union overtime ban

Rail passengers reacted with fury today as stations across the UK were forced to close or operate on severely reduced timetables for the next two week

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Rail passengers reacted with fury today as stations across the UK were forced to close or operate on severely reduced timetables for the next two weeks because of a union overtime ban on non-strike days.

A RMT overtime ban on days when walkouts are not planned has caused widespread chaos including last-minute cancellations and ‘bottlenecks’ at depots as rail operators scramble to get the right number of staff in place to be able to run services safely.

One rail operator was forced to cancel 70 per cent of its services on the day yesterday, Sunderland station announced it was closed this week and South Western Railway has closed 40 stations until the New Year due to the ongoing disruption called by industrial action.

The railway network will shutdown once again from 3pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27 as another national walkout gets under way in a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

Rail passengers have reacted with fury after cancellations and delays plagued the network despite it not being a strike day

Rail passengers have reacted with fury after cancellations and delays plagued the network despite it not being a strike day

Rail passengers have reacted with fury after cancellations and delays plagued the network despite it not being a strike day

SWR has announced it is operating a significantly reduced service for the next two weeks, with more than 40 stations with limited or no service across its network, caused in part by the RMT's overtime ban and major planned engineering works

SWR has announced it is operating a significantly reduced service for the next two weeks, with more than 40 stations with limited or no service across its network, caused in part by the RMT's overtime ban and major planned engineering works

SWR has announced it is operating a significantly reduced service for the next two weeks, with more than 40 stations with limited or no service across its network, caused in part by the RMT’s overtime ban and major planned engineering works

Passengers expressed their growing anger over the rail disruption with many commuters forced to work from home and plans ruined over the festive period – the first in three years without Covid-19 restrictions.

An overtime ban, announced by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, will take place across the railways from December 18 until January 2.

The ban – which has instructed union members not to work more than their contracted hours – is hugely disruptive because the industry is heavily reliant on staff to work overtime, while in turn helping workers by topping up their wages. 

It has caused widespread chaos across the rail network by creating bottlenecks in depots and staff shortages of dispatchers and shunters meaning services cannot run safely. 

MP Munira Wilson said it was 'unacceptable' that there wee no trains from Whitton and other stations on days when strikes were not planned

MP Munira Wilson said it was 'unacceptable' that there wee no trains from Whitton and other stations on days when strikes were not planned

MP Munira Wilson said it was ‘unacceptable’ that there wee no trains from Whitton and other stations on days when strikes were not planned

A map published by SWR showed ‘no services’ at more than 40 stations including Earlsfield, Chertsey, Mortlake, Queenstown Road, Hampton Court, Frimley, Bagshot, Camberley and Dorking. 

Trains connecting London to other commuter towns like Farnham Guildford and Woking have also been reduced during the industrial action.

SWR said it was most affected by the reduction in shunters, who are responsible for signalling and guiding trains in and out of depots, and dispatchers, who help trains get off safely from platforms, having an impact on hundreds of trains per day.

The rail operator took the decision to close down some depots and yards and consolidate its resources to ensure that at least some of its services can stay open, and avoid last-minute cancellations.

There have also been huge delays and last-minute cancellations across the rest of the network, with one operator cancelling 70 per cent of its services yesterday leaving passengers stranded and plans ruined.

Passengers blasted rail operators for the cancellations and delays on a non-strike day

Passengers blasted rail operators for the cancellations and delays on a non-strike day

Passengers blasted rail operators for the cancellations and delays on a non-strike day

A SWR spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry that the RMT overtime ban will severely disrupt our customers travel plans throughout the Christmas period and into the New Year.

‘While not a strike, the overtime ban limits the number of trains we can get into service each day and we have had to make some difficult decisions to be able to provide a reliable and consistent service throughout the period. 

‘We are urging customers to check their entire journey before setting off and thank them for their patience and cooperation during this damaging industrial action by the RMT.

Chiltern Railways said it would not run any trains north of Banbury on its London-Birmingham network until the New Year, with the overtime ban set to reduce its services significantly over Christmas.

It said: ‘The overtime ban in place has put immense pressure on our train maintenance depots.

‘In particular, it has forced us to close our train maintenance depots on Sunday 18 December, and as such, we will not be able to operate a service on this day. We have exhausted all options, and this is not a decision that has been taken lightly. We apologise to customers for the inconvenience that this will cause.”

Network Rail previously said that around 20 per cent of its schedule, equating to 4,000 trains a day, would be cancelled due to the overtime ban.

Trains that do run will be significantly busier, and could lead to overcrowding on services over the festive period.

Britain’s strike hell continues into Christmas, starting today

Meanwhile, a national walkout planned for Christmas Eve has seen passengers urged to only travel ‘if absolutely necessary’, and to consider making Christmas getaway journeys on an earlier day if possible.

Network Rail warned that the last trains on some routes on Saturday will depart in the morning, and some routes such as London-Sheffield and London-Nottingham will have no services at all.

Chief executive Andrew Haines said: ‘RMT suggestions that their planned strike action over the festive period is ‘not targeting Christmas’ would be laughable were the consequences not so painful to so many people, including on Christmas Eve.

‘The RMT is causing needless misery to its own members, to the railway and to the country’s economy.

‘I am so sorry that our passengers are having to bear the brunt of the RMT’s needless strike when a fair offer is on the table and when only a third of the workforce have rejected it.

‘Our offer guarantees jobs and gives everyone a decent pay rise of 9% and more.

‘Two of our three trade unions have already accepted, and the RMT needs to think again.’

The RMT described Network Rail’s offer as ‘substandard’.

Network Rail said the strike means all trains will need to be taken out of service by 6pm on Christmas Eve.

It most locations, that means passenger journeys must be completed by 3pm.

Calendar shows the series of strikes set for the next two weeks

Calendar shows the series of strikes set for the next two weeks

Calendar shows the series of strikes set for the next two weeks

 

Widespread chaos still hit the rail network today despite there being no planned walkout today

Widespread chaos still hit the rail network today despite there being no planned walkout today

Widespread chaos still hit the rail network today despite there being no planned walkout today

Examples of last train times include 10.45am from Leeds to London, 11am from London to Edinburgh and 12.48pm from London to Manchester.

The combination of an overtime ban at 14 train companies means some operators will have no services on Christmas Eve.

The day’s timetables will be published on Saturday.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said: ‘The RMT’s willingness to disrupt people’s travel plans for the first Christmas in three years without Covid restrictions is deeply disappointing.

‘We worked hard to avoid this damaging widespread campaign of industrial action affecting travel during the festive period and we apologise to our customers.

‘The RMT overtime ban in place up to 2 January will also affect services, and we urge customers to check with the websites and social media of National Rail Enquiries and their train operator.

‘We are now focusing on giving passengers the maximum possible certainty so they can make alternative plans if necessary.’

Christmas is a key period for Network Rail to carry out maintenance work.

The company planned a £120 million programme of more than 300 projects this Christmas.

It said ‘around 85%’ of this work will still go ahead despite the RMT action.

It comes amid a wave of strike action which threatens to wreck Christmas, with ambulance staff, nurses, postmen, driving examiners, job centre staff and highways workers all striking this week.

Patients have been urged to ‘make their own way to hospital’ on Wednesday when ambulance workers take industrial action that critics fear could lead to deaths.

The Christmas getaway will also be disrupted when border staff strike, hitting airports on Friday. An estimated 20 million British drivers expected to embark on trips to see friends and family in the run-up to Christmas Day, a higher rate than normal due to strike action on the railways.

Driving test examiners and workers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) walked out today in an escalating campaign of industrial action by civil servants over pay, jobs and conditions.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) in Liverpool and Doncaster who are employed by the DWP will take action from Monday until Christmas Eve and again from December 29 to New Year’s Eve.

An ambulance drives past as nurses and supporters gather to demonstrate outside St Thomas' hospital

An ambulance drives past as nurses and supporters gather to demonstrate outside St Thomas' hospital

An ambulance drives past as nurses and supporters gather to demonstrate outside St Thomas’ hospital

The union said Doncaster Benefits Centre and Toxteth jobcentre have been chosen for the first tranche of DWP action because they are earmarked for closure.

Paramedic pay higher now 

Ambulance staff walking out in the row over pay are demanding a wage boost which is a ‘better match’ for inflation.

While some health workers did see a real-terms pay cut over a decade, ambulance staff were around £2,800 better off, a report concluded.

Independent charity the Health Foundation looked at pay, taking inflation into account, between March 2011 and March 2021. It found that ambulance staff basic pay increased by £2,767.

The GMB said the figures did not take into account cuts to unsociable hours payments or the increased cost of living.

 

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Driving examiners and local driving test managers working for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will take action across north-west England and Yorkshire & Humber in a programme of rolling regional action.

Elderly people who fall at home and women in late-stage labour are among more than 3,000 people who could be denied an ambulance by striking staff.

Those who suffer falls or break an arm or leg, and women who are close to giving birth and in labour, are classed as urgent but not emergency ‘category three calls’.

It has so far only been confirmed that ambulance staff will deal with immediately life-threatening ‘category one’ incidents. But last month there were almost 100,000 category three incidents requiring an ambulance across the nine trusts set to go on strike in England – an average of 3,314 a day.

If the same number of people ring 999 this Wednesday, when the ambulance strike takes place, they could be left to fend for themselves. Only staff at South East Coast Ambulance Service have committed to helping people following falls during the strike, and then only if someone falls outside or has been on the floor for more than four hours.

Yesterday evening, with two days to go before the strike, around half of ambulance trusts in England were understood still not to have decided if they would make a similar exception.

Unison, Unite and the GMB have confirmed their members will take part in a strike on Wednesday over pay. GMB members will take part in an additional strike day on Wednesday, December 28.

Tomorrow will see nurses across England walk out in the second of two planned strikes this month.

It could affect cancer surgery and other non-urgent operations. But nurses will still provide vital services including paediatric intensive care, dialysis and chemotherapy. Speaking on a visit to Chelmsford Ambulance Operations Centre, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘It’s important the trade unions honour the commitment they’ve given to safeguard both life-threatening responses and emergency responses.

‘We haven’t had that confirmed in the arrangements that the unions put in place at each trust. I’m calling on them to do so.’

The Government has convened an emergency Cobra committee meeting this morning to discuss how to minimise the disruption caused by the industrial action. 

Mr Barclay also warned that patient safety would be affected if striking NHS staff chose to only answer calls from the picket line.

Asked if he could guarantee the public will be safe during strikes, he said: ‘There’s a difference in terms of the risk from the nursing strike, where there was around 7 per cent of nurses absent last week, compared to the risk from the ambulances next week.’

Writing in the Daily Express, Pat McCullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), urged the Prime Minister to ‘get this wrapped up before Christmas’. 

Sources said the RCN – which is calling for a 19 per cent pay deal – wants to negotiate a ‘fair deal’ and hopes ministers will agree for more talks. 

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) pose with nurses standing behind a banner at an official picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) pose with nurses standing behind a banner at an official picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) pose with nurses standing behind a banner at an official picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Breakfast that NHS trust leaders ‘genuinely understand why staff are choosing to, so I think they would urge the Government and the unions to get round the table and discuss pay’.

She added that this is going to be an ‘incredibly challenging week’, saying: ‘Trust leaders across both hospitals and ambulance services will be doing everything that they can to put in place services that keep patients and the public as safe as possible.

‘So it’s really important that people do remember that. And 999 calls that affect life and limb, those real emergencies will be answered.

‘That’s the most important thing to say. However, it’s worth remembering that this is going to be an incredibly challenging and disrupted week, not only because we have the ambulance service coming out on strike across nearly every region, but also because we’ve got these sequential strikes.

‘So we’ve got nurses’ industrial action on Tuesday, and then ambulance services on Wednesday, and I think one will impact the other.’

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Trust, warned that there ‘will be disruption, there will be patients that will  be waiting much longer than we would like and many will probably not receive a response at all.’ 

Dame Esther Rantzen is among those warning that older people who have fallen could die during strikes. The 3,314 left without help for category three calls is the highest estimate if all ambulance workers went on strike, and did so for 24 hours. In reality, the timing of walkouts will vary between each union and ambulance service, and not everyone is on strike for 24 hours. But there is also no agreement yet in many trusts on category two calls, which can include stroke patients and people with sepsis.

Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics, said: ‘A fall may not sound like an immediate emergency over the phone but for some, in particular those who are frail, they can lead to wider complications including death.’

In November, there were 99,417 category three incidents across England’s nine striking ambulance trusts, for urgent issues including late-stage labour, diabetic complications and abdominal pain.

Ordinarily, ambulances are supposed to respond to 90 per cent of these calls within two hours, although that target is already being missed due to Covid.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The NHS is still in discussions with union representatives on where normal staffing levels and arrangements will need to be in place during the strikes. But disruption to patient care is sadly inevitable. No health leader wants to be in this situation, so we urge the Government to enter into meaningful negotiations with trade unions.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘During the strikes, we will continue to work to ensure there is emergency care for patients.’ A spokesman for the GMB said: ‘A solution to this dispute is more than possible but the Government doesn’t seem to want to find it.’ Health Secretary Steve Barclay is expected to contact the unions today, calling for a meeting to discuss patient safety. 

Union baron Mick Lynch is under mounting pressure to accept a pay deal last night as he faced a mutiny from his members.

His militant RMT union walked out on Friday for the second day of the first of several 48-hour walkouts over the festive period.

But around a fifth of RMT members who work for Network Rail – some 4,000 in total – defied the strike and turned up for work.

This is double the number who did when strikes began in June, raising the possibility that the action could collapse.

It is understood that signallers in particular are furious that Mr Lynch has snubbed a 9 per cent pay offer from Network Rail. They have lost thousands of pounds in earnings due to the walkouts.

Union sources claimed that a majority of 6,000 signallers voted in favour of the deal when it was put to RMT members last week.

But one source said their votes were outweighed by 10,000 or so maintenance staff – many of whom are opposed to the offer because of some of the working practice reforms attached to the deal.

It highlights a growing split among RMT members, several thousand of whom are urging Mr Lynch to take the Network Rail offer. Some will have lost £4,000 in pay and bonuses by the end of January.

Train passengers are being urged to complete journeys as early as lunchtime on Christmas Eve, meaning many people will opt for car or coach travel instead. Pictured: RMT union boss Mick Lynch, seen last week

Train passengers are being urged to complete journeys as early as lunchtime on Christmas Eve, meaning many people will opt for car or coach travel instead. Pictured: RMT union boss Mick Lynch, seen last week

Train passengers are being urged to complete journeys as early as lunchtime on Christmas Eve, meaning many people will opt for car or coach travel instead. Pictured: RMT union boss Mick Lynch, seen last week

Pressure on the roads will be heightened due to a strike by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail from 6pm on Christmas Eve. Pictured: Commuters wait for trains at Kings Cross station on December 17

Pressure on the roads will be heightened due to a strike by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail from 6pm on Christmas Eve. Pictured: Commuters wait for trains at Kings Cross station on December 17

Pressure on the roads will be heightened due to a strike by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail from 6pm on Christmas Eve. Pictured: Commuters wait for trains at Kings Cross station on December 17

One source said: ‘Lynch is losing signallers a shedload of money. We’ll potentially start seeing signallers coming back to work and of course that effectively means the strikes are off in terms of the number of trains you can run.’

Around 80 per cent of trains can run when signallers defy strikes, but only about a 20 per cent when they join the walkouts. Tory MP Chris Loder, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said union bosses were ‘skating on thin ice’ adding: ‘There’s a real risk that the strikes break down.’

Polling by Ipsos has found that the RMT is losing sympathy among the public, with more now opposing strikes than supporting them.

Of more than 1,000 adults asked by the pollster last week, 30 per cent said they supported rail walkouts with 36 per cent opposed. In September, the figures were 43 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.

The RMT will start another 48-hour walkout tomorrow and hold two more strikes across January 3 and 4 and January 6 and 7. It will also strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27.

Similar pay offers have been backed by other rail unions.

The RMT denied the claims of mutiny and Mr Lynch insisted members would continue striking, regardless of lost earnings.

Meanwhile, UK airports could be plunged into chaos as Border Force strikes threaten misery for millions of passengers in what is the first Christmas without Covid-19 restrictions in three years.

Contingency plans being drawn up could see travellers held on aircrafts to stop overcrowding in arrival halls during industrial action.

There are also fears that passengers could be forced to wait for more than two hours in long queues as passport control.

More than 1,000 PCS union members at six UK airports are due to strike on Friday, hitting the peak Christmas holiday period.

The strikes will affect Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow from December 23 to Boxing Day and from December 28 to New Year’s Eve.

More than 10,000 flights are schedule to fly into airports over those dates, roughly making up two million airline seats.  

The second wave of strikes, coinciding with when holidaymakers return home after Christmas, could be the most disruptive period, with fears there may be huge bottlenecks at immigration. 

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