As four more days of disruption across the rail network in Great Britain begins, a war of words between management and unions has intensified.
Only one in five of the normal daily trains is running today, with no service at all on half of the network.
The chief executive of Network Rail has expressed growing frustration with the progress of talks with the unions. Speaking on BBCToday, Andrew Haines said: “Slow negotiations, painful negotiations, moving all over the place.
“Absolute lack of clarity on what it would take for this strike to be called off. Shifting goal posts.
“We’re desperate to bring this to a resolution in a way that’s affordable for the country.”
“This is the biggest strike that we’ve seen for perhaps 30 years on the railway and I think that’s because the employers – myself and the train operators, supported by the government – are saying that the economic crisis which Covid has precipitated demands that we modernise.
“If the way the unions react when we asked to modernise is they call the biggest strike on the railway for 30 years, then that is not a reason for us to not want to modernise. It demonstrates, maybe, that that modernisation is long overdue.”
But Mick Lynch, general secretary of the main rail union, the RMT, told ITV Good Morning Britain: “We work with the negotiators, Andrew Haines’s team, and we work with the train operating companies’ senior people.
“We don’t want to cause pain, we don’t want disruption. We want a settlement to the issues in this dispute which are based around job security, conditions of service and pay, and of course in the train operating companies we’ve got an enormous attack on our pension scheme.
“We’ve had discussions this week. But the gap between us is still there. We’ve got to find a way to bridge that.
“But I fear that because of the political interference that’s happening with the Department for Transport and the Treasury we’re not able to do that.”
The Department for Transport (DfT), meanwhie, accused rail unions of inflicting misery of travellers rather than modernising.
A DfT spokesperson said: “Yet again, for the sixth time since June, union leaders are opting to inflict misery and disrupt the day-to-day lives of millions instead of working with industry to agree a deal that will bring our railways into the 21st century.
“It’s clear strikes are not the powerful tool they once were and union chiefs are no longer able to bring the country to a standstill as, unlike them, the world has changed and people simply work from home. All these strikes are doing is hurting those people the unions claim to represent, many of whom will again be out of pocket and forced to miss a day’s work.
“We urge union bosses to do the right thing by their members and let them have their say on Network Rail’s very fair deal, which will deliver the reforms our rail system urgently needs. It’s time to get off the picket lines and back around the negotiating table – the future of our railway depends on it.”
The effects of Thursday’s stoppage will continue into Friday morning, and on Saturday another one-day strike will take place – with repercussions affecting Sunday services.