Southern and Thameslink trains could be affected by ‘biggest rail strike in modern history’

Southern and Thameslink services could be affected by what could potentially be the ‘biggest rail strike in modern history’.

The RMT union says it is balloting more than 40,000 workers on Network Rail and across 15 different train operating companies.

The union claims Network Rail, which manages the country’s train network, intends to cut at least 2,500 safety critical maintenance jobs, while staff working for train operators have been subject to ‘pay freezes, threats to jobs and attacks on their terms and conditions’.

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The ballot opens on Tuesday (April 26) and closes on May 24. If RMT members vote in favour, a national railway strike could begin as early as June.

Southern train

Staff at Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, are amongst those being balloted.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch suggested a national rail strike would bring the country to a ‘standstill’, but said the union’s members’ livelihoods and passenger safety were their priority.

He believes the Network Rail job cuts would ‘spell disaster for the public’ and make accidents more likely, while thousands of railway workers were seeing their living standards ‘plummet’ as staff pay had not kept up with inflation and soaring costs.

In response, a Rail Delivery Group spokesman said: “The pandemic was an unprecedented shock for the railway, with the lowest passenger numbers in over 150 years and record levels of public funding to keep it running.

“Our whole focus now should be securing a thriving future for rail that adapts to new travel patterns and takes no more than its fair share from taxpayers, instead of staging premature industrial action which would disrupt passengers’ lives and put the industry’s recovery at risk.

“For the sake of our people and everyone who relies on our railway every day, we want the RMT to work with us to bring how we run our services up to date so that it is more reliable, more affordable and inspires more passengers back on board.”

On pay, the RDG added: “We are acutely aware of the cost of living pressures being felt by workers and families across the UK. Every business wants to support their staff and the railway is no exception.

“But, as an industry we have to change our ways of working and improve productivity to help pay our own way – the alternatives of asking taxpayers to shoulder the burden or passengers to pay higher fares when they too are feeling the pinch, simply isn’t fair.”