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UK sees biggest rail strike in 30 years, Boris Johnson calls for ‘reasonable compromise’

On June 21, tens of thousands of railway workers in the UK went on strike, bringing the country’s rail network to a standstill in the country’s worst public transport strike in three decades. A 24-hour strike by some 40,000 cleaners, flaggers, maintainers and station staff was underway, with two more scheduled for Thursday and Saturday. Adding to the misery of passengers, London Underground services were also disrupted by a strike on Tuesday.

As Britain’s railways struggle to recover from the coronavirus outbreak, the dispute revolves around pay, working conditions and job security. As of Tuesday morning, major stations were mostly vacant, with only around 20% of passenger trains running.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister, has responded to the biggest train strikes in a decade by proposing to end the strike by allowing companies to take on agency workers, a proposal unions have called impractical, dangerous and potentially illegal under international law.

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Employees trying to get to work, students preparing for exams and music fans heading to the Glastonbury Festival, which kicks off in south-west England on Wednesday, have all been disrupted by the strike.

In the year ending March, around 1 billion rail journeys were made in the UK. However, this is a far cry from pre-COVID-19 levels, and rail companies that have been able to stay afloat with government assistance over the past two years are looking to cut costs and staff.

On Monday, last-minute talks failed to yield a breakthrough. The Union of Trains, Sea and Transport said it would not accept the rail companies’ offer of a 3% hike, which is well below the current inflation rate of 9% .

The union claims that the Conservative government is reluctant to allow the railways the latitude to grant major wage increases.

The government claims not to be involved in the discussions, but it has warned that sharp wage increases will trigger a price-wage spiral, leading to even higher inflation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has slammed the unions for ‘harming the very people they claim to support’ and called for a ‘reasonable settlement in the interests of the British people and the rail workforce’.

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Post expires at 9:26am on Friday July 1st, 2022