UK travel chaos stretches into weekend with national rail strike

Train workers seeking to preserve jobs and earn higher pay have held another nationwide walkout. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Disruptions to Britain's transport system are extending into the weekend as train workers seeking to preserve jobs and earn higher pay hold another nationwide walkout.

The latest action comes a day after London's subway network ground to a halt as its workers went on strike, and follows an earlier stoppage by train staff on Thursday (Aug 18).

Only about 20 per cent of Britain's rail network will be open on Saturday, with a skeletal service running between 7.30am and 6.30pm, according to Network Rail, which manages the UK's stations and tracks. More disruption is expected on Sunday as a knock-on effect from the walkout, the group said on its website.

The labour actions come against a worsening economic backdrop, with inflation at a four-decade high driving up the cost of everything from food to energy and clothing.

The Bank of England expects price growth to top 13 per cent in the coming months, while real wages are falling at a record pace.

Britain's rail industry has been hit particularly hard. Even as inflation soars, the government is pressing companies to scale back costs to reflect lower ridership after the Covid-19 crisis. Further transport upheaval is due Sunday, when dockworkers at Felixstowe, the largest UK container port, start an eight-day strike.

There's been little sign of progress toward a resolution of the rail disputes, raising concern they will drag on, undermining the economy.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which organised the train and Tube strikes, along with the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, has accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of blocking a deal to resolve workers' issues.

Mr Shapps in turn blamed union chiefs for failing to present settlement offers to members. "It's time for the union bosses to get out of the way and put the deals on the table," he told Sky News on Friday.

Labour unrest has spilled over into other industries as well. Some 115,000 Royal Mail Plc postal workers begin a series of strikes on Aug 26. Barristers have staged walkouts in England and Wales and even nurses are planning to hold a strike vote.

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