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Strikes brought Britain’s rail network to a standstill on Thursday as union bosses, rail operating companies and the government clashed to demand pay rises for workers keep pace with soaring inflation.
A spike in the cost of food and fuel is pushing many family budgets to the brink and pushing unions to demand higher pay rises for their members. The government called for wage moderation to avoid an inflationary spiral.
Unions have formed picket lines around stations for the second day of this week and have warned against further industrial action unless a deal can be reached to improve wages and avoid layoffs.
“We will continue to speak to businesses about everything that has been put on the table and we will review this and see if and when there needs to be a new phase of industrial action,” said Mick Lynch, general secretary of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), told the BBC.
“But if we don’t get a settlement, it’s extremely likely there will be.”
Although talks are underway, a third day of strike action is scheduled for Saturday. Other industries are also heading for industrial action in what unions say could be a “summer of discontent”.
The government has criticized the strikes, calling them counterproductive and most damaging for low-income people who rely on public transport and cannot work from home.
UK railway strikes highlight cost of living crisis
Later Thursday, ministers will present planned changes to a law that would make it easier for businesses to use temporary staff, in a bid to minimize the impact of strikes.
“Once again the unions are holding the country hostage by crippling crucial public services and businesses. The situation we find ourselves in is not sustainable,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
“Repealing these 1970s restrictions will give businesses the freedom to quickly access fully qualified staff, while allowing people to carry on with their lives uninterrupted to help keep the economy going.”