Britons breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as unions called off a 24-hour bank holiday strike that threatened to bring the country’s rail network to a standstill.
But fresh calls for industrial action – this time over rostering and pay for night-time Underground services from September – point to a growing union revolt against government cost-cutting.
The RMT and TSSA unions’ last-minute decision to suspend the strike – planned from 5pm on bank holiday Monday – came after four days of crisis talks and a “revised offer” from employer National Rail.
Train operators quickly reinstated cancelled routes, although many passengers have already made alternative travel plans via coach or plane.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has received a revised offer that enables us to suspend the planned industrial action while we consult in full with our Network Rail representatives.” But within an hour of announcing the postponement of that dispute, RMT took aim at London Underground, joining Aslef – which represents around 80 per cent of London Underground workers – in a ballot of its members over strike action.
Cash said: “It is simply outrageous that management, in a mad dash to bulldoze through the Mayor’s night Tube vanity project, have smashed apart long-term agreements and have resorted to trying to bully staff into accepting roster changes at a local level and the message from RMT is clear – we are not having it.”
Aslef had already announced a separate strike of Southern railway workers, but that was also suspended yesterday following “an improved pay offer”.
Growing turbulence over job security and pay comes as the government prepares to introduce tighter thresholds for strike ballots in the Queen’s Speech next Wednesday.
Professor Jason Heyes, an employment relations specialist at the University of Sheffield, told City A.M.: “Public sector industrial action might increase, given the further public sector cuts that are due to be made, although the planned changes to the rules on balloting are obviously intended to make it more difficult for unions to take industrial action.
“There might also be an element of ‘unfinished business’. Although trade union density in the private sector has fallen to around 15 per cent, in the public sector it remains at around 55 per cent. The public sector is therefore the heartland of union strength and there appears to be an element of the government wanting to take the unions on.”