RMT’s Mick Lynch announces 48-hour strikes
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Thousands of civil servants, HGV drivers, postal workers, nurses and security staff are set to down tools across December and January, meaning weeks of strike hell for millions. The RMT union piled further misery on the nation on Tuesday night after announcing rail workers will hold a series of 48-hour walkouts throughout the festive season.
Staff across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will abandon railways across the country on December 13, 14, 16 and 17. More industrial action will kickstart the New Year, with walkouts planned for January 3, 4, 6 and 7.
It comes after food industry bosses warned that supplies of beers, turkeys, takeaways and other festive food and drinks could all be put under strain because of the industrial action.
The latest wave of industrial action triggered widespread anger.
Steve Montgomery, Chairman of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “It would be tragic if more train strikes wreck the first real festive season that millions of families have enjoyed since 2019.
“Strikes will also take even more money out of the pockets of railway staff and devastate the pubs, restaurants and shops who depend on this time of year to make a profit.”
The country is facing a winter of discontent after 100,000 civil servants voted last week to strike and nurses decided to take industrial action for the first time in more than a century.
Rishi Sunak warned his Cabinet on Tuesday that “challenging” months lay ahead.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman criticised unions involved in the strikes, saying: “They are damaging the economy, stopping hard-working people from getting to work, to reaching hospital appointments, to going to school.
“I think everyone is well aware of the serious financial challenges the rail industry faces following the pandemic and the need for reform.”
More than 40,000 RMT members are expected to take part in the walkouts as part of the long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.
The RMT said there would also be an overtime ban from 18 December until 2 January, meaning the union will be taking industrial action for four weeks in total.
Union firebrand Mick Lynch said the strikes would send “a clear message” that workers want a better deal on pay and working conditions.
The RMT general secretary also dismissed claims he was a “Grinch”, saying: “You can call us what you want… I’m not the Grinch, I’m a trade union official and I’m determined to get a deal.”
The economy is estimated to have taken a £600 million hit so far because of the RMT strikes.
The strikes mean passengers will face disruption in the run-up to Christmas and while travelling to events such as performances by comedian Peter Kay in London and Birmingham on 16 and 17 December.
ScotRail bosses have warned strikes are likely to have a “severe” impact on the network.
It also includes signalling staff, which means it is likely that only a small minority of services will run on main lines, while smaller branches will have no trains at all.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “No one can deny the precarious financial hole in which the railway finds itself. Striking makes that hole bigger and the task of finding a resolution ever more difficult.”
Separately, the Aslef union, which represents drivers, has already announced it will hold another strike on 26 November in a dispute over pay.
The 12 companies facing the fresh strike are Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Great Western Railway; Greater Anglia; London North Eastern Railway; London Overground; Northern Trains; Southeastern; Transpennine Express, and West Midlands Trains.
A wave of other industrial action is also set to paralyse the country in the coming weeks.
Nurses are expected to strike in early December, while bus drivers strike for 10 days in the lead up to Christmas. More than 70,000 university staff are striking for three days in November.
Union barons have repeatedly threatened to bring the nation to a standstill in what critics claimed was an attempt to force the first “general strike” in nearly 100 years.
Firefighters, teachers and even Asda workers are also considering striking.
Hundreds of G4S security staff who deliver cash and coins have voted to strike in December, prompting fears of shortages ahead of Christmas.
The industrial action could impact the supply of cash and coins at banking clients such as Barclays, HSBC and Santander, and supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Aldi.
The GMB union said it will be the first ever strike at G4S after union members voted to walk out, with a 97 per cent vote in favour of action. It said the strike is scheduled to take place from 3am on December 5.
The security operator and outsourcing firm said it has “contingency plans” to mitigate disruption if the strike goes ahead.
Mark Serwotka, the boss of the Public and Commercial Services union, which balloted 150,000 civil servants including Border Force staff – said it would co-ordinate with other unions to cause “chaos”.
On November 9, thousands of nurses across Britain voted to strike for the first time, leading to fears that death rates will rise if the walkouts spread.
Strikes are expected to begin in early December and could take place over two dates, potentially a Tuesday and a Thursday. They could last until early May 2023.
The vote was the first time the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has balloted its more than 300,000 members in its 106-year history.
Health insiders fear lives will be lost as a result, with a “bank holiday service” causing delays and cancellations of routine treatment and operations.
But RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “We don’t intend to place any patient at further risk during the strike. We will manage that safely and effectively.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the strike was “disappointing” and nurses’ demands were “out of step” with the economic pressures facing the country.
Two education unions are also balloting their members into the new year.
The NASUWT ballot run from October 27 to January 9. The NEU ballot runs from October 28 to January 13.
‘Expenses for parties not a right’
Rishi Sunak has told MPs they will have to justify their expenses to voters – after they learnt they can now charge taxpayers for Christmas parties for the first time.
His words came after the expenses watchdog set out new rules, with alcohol deemed off-limits for claims.
But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said MPs can claim back cash spent on food, as well as decorations and non-alcoholic drinks, for an “office festive event”.
Purchases for a party in their constituency can also be claimed back if the event is “within a parliamentary context”.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the “bonkers” watchdog had “missed the mood of the age”.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman insisted the PM “certainly doesn’t intend” to put party spending on expenses, saying decisions on the matter are “independent of both Parliament and Government”.
School ratings plunge
Schools’ recent drop in ratings could reflect a decline in standards “many years ago”, the boss of the education watchdog has said, writes Steph Spyro, Daily Express Political Correspondent.
Hundreds of schools have lost their top rank when the watchdog commenced its reinspections of those previously rated outstanding, with ministers scrapping their exemption from regular checks.
In the last academic year, this involved conducting full, graded inspections of 370 top-rated schools, of which only 17 per cent retained their outstanding rating.
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman rejected any notion the watchdog might downgrade schools to prove the worth of its inspections. She poured cold water on any suggestion the watchdog would push for schools to be downgraded to prove the value of its oversight.
Asked how she would respond to a notion the slip in outstanding schools was not purely a result of inspections but a reflection of Ofsted’s own wishes, she told the Commons Education Committee inspectors to guard their independence and impartiality “fiercely”.
She said: “Any suggestion from the top of Ofsted that there should be any kind of quota or sort of push on a particular kind of school would be met with absolute horror.
“I can assure you that there is nothing of the kind. Each inspection is approached separately, as it should be.”
She said the “downward shift” in schools operating at an outstanding level may have happened some time ago.
“The ones we inspected last year in the main hadn’t been inspected for 13, 14, even 15 years – a great deal of time in which all of the staff, including the head, all of the governors are likely to have changed, sometimes a number of times.
“So, at one level there is no surprise that the profile doesn’t look extremely similar to what it did for those 300 schools all that time ago.
“It’s important to say that in many cases the downward shift … may have happened many years ago.”
Ms Spielman said Ofsted is “confident” it will meet its target of inspecting all schools by 2025.
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