BANK holiday travellers and commuters face severe disruption after the RMT and TSSA rail unions today announced a 24-hour strike over the bank holiday weekend.
Few trains are expected to run should the walkouts go ahead, in what would be the first Britain-wide rail stoppage for 20 years.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union was followed by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association in ordering the action.
Details of how many services are likely to operate are due to be published early next week, but one RMT official claimed the network would be at a “standstill” on Tuesday, 26 May.
The dispute over pay involving 25,000 staff at Network Rail, including signallers and track workers.
The RMT has also banned overtime on the Monday and Tuesday, which could cause further disruption before the strike starts. A similar move by the TSSA covers the same period.
Industry sources expect agreement to be reached over the four-year pay deal ahead of the strike, as has happened in several previous disputes between the RMT and Network Rail over the last decade.
The conciliation service Acas later announced that talks between Network Rail, the RMT and two other unions would be held next Monday.
They include the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which today voted narrowly to strike.
The dispute centres on a £500 one-off payment as part of the package.
However, the uncertainty caused to passengers is likely to prompt many to reconsider or scrap their planned rail journeys.
The two sides are believed to be not that far apart towards reaching agreement.
But the RMT may will want to be seen to flex its industrial muscle in the face of new restrictions on strikes planned by the UK Government - which could take the dispute to the wire.
RMT members voted by four to one to strike in a 60 per cent turnout. General secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members have decisively rejected the pay package offered by Network Rail.
“The failure of the company to make any moves whatsoever in light of the overwhelming vote in the ballot has left us with no option but to move to a rolling programme of industrial action.
“We have made it clear the one off, non-consolidated, lump-sum payment this year is wholly inadequate and fails to recognise the massive pressures staff are working under to keep services running safely at a time when the company is generating profits of £1 billion.”
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “This strike is deliberately timed to cause maximum disruption to families trying to enjoy the half-term break, and millions more returning to work after the bank holiday.
“I find it deplorable the RMT can hold the travelling public to ransom in this way.
“The RMT say we can afford more than what’s on offer. What they don’t say is that Network Rail is a public service body and that all profits are re-invested in building a bigger, better, more reliable railway.
“Any pay increase comes from the pockets of taxpayers and fare paying passengers.”
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