The economy is facing a hit of tens of millions of pounds as 300,000 commuters are left stranded this week on the back of three days of walkouts by staff on Southern rail.
Southern rail commuter services ground to a halt yesterday on a double whammy of walkouts by guards from the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and drivers’ union Aslef.
Today talks aimed at resolving the latest drivers’ dispute will be held at the conciliation service Acas. RMT general secretary Mick Cash will be attending.
London First’s director of strategy and policy John Dickie put the cost of disruption at “tens of millions of pounds each day” and added: “The unions must stop punishing commuters whose work and family lives have already suffered as a result of industrial action.”
The gross cost of the disruption is estimated at £45m per day by Panmure Gordon, or £135m in total.
“This prices each of the 300,000 commuters’ working days at £149, which in turn is an average wage of £35,000 divided by 235 working days,” said chief economist Simon French.
“But to understand the loss you would have to net off the fact that some will drive in, take an alternative service, work from home or catch up on lost output on subsequent days – so it would be a lower net figure.”
French said a reasonable net figure would be nearer £20m per day, or £60m for the three days of disruption caused by this week’s industrial action.
The long-running dispute between the unions and Southern rail is about who operates rail carriage doors. Southern wants to take the job away from guards, leaving them free to operate in a more customer facing role. However, the unions claim the reforms would impact safety.
During previous RMT strikes Southern rail had been able to run a skeleton service. This week is the first where Aslef has joined them in coordinated action, causing services to stop completely. More strikes are planned.
“These strikes are bringing the wheels of commerce to a halt. Losing three whole days, plus more after Christmas, is a huge blow. It’s very hard to see how the dispute between the unions and Southern railway justifies this economic damage,” said Simon Walker, director general at the Institute of Directors.
“The strikes may deter shoppers from coming into London to do Christmas shopping,” said IHS Markit chief economist Howard Archer.