Network Rail staff, including signallers and emergency response staff, will go on strike on 21, 23 and 25 June. Our local railway staff working for Southern Rail and Thameslink did not vote for strike action as other railway staff did, but they will not be working any overtime which will still cause serious disruption to local rail services. This will have an impact on services for commuters, and I will provide an update when I have some more specific information.
To be clear, I completely disagree with this strike action. Taxpayers have contributed significant amounts of money during the pandemic - to the tune of £16 billion, which is £600 per household - to keep jobs in the railway sector protected because we view trains as a critical part of our national infrastructure. Many other sectors faced job losses, but not rail.
I understand railway workers may be worried about the cost of living, but like everyone else they will be getting help from the Government to pay the bills. This is £1,200 for those on means-tested benefits, and at least £550 for those on higher salaries and in council tax bands A to D.
Some people have argued that we can tax ‘the rich’ to increase public sector wages. But five out of six people in this country work in the private sector, 70 per cent of people earn less than £36,000 and only three per cent earn more than £100,000. So what people are really asking for when they say we should increase taxes to pay for public sector wages is for higher taxes on normal working people, or in the case of trains, hiking the price of train tickets. We are all happy to sacrifice some of our wages to pay for public services but there has to be a level of fairness for those people in the private sector often on low incomes who are also struggling right now.
To strike now and disrupt normal commuters and the economy at this critical time is, I think, deeply wrong. It is also wildly counter-productive as we have already seen a shift to home working which has reduced passenger volumes and train revenues. This, in turn, has reduced the number of train services.
To add yet more uncertainty to rail services risks discouraging people from using the trains, which will eventually lead to job losses for the very people who are taking industrial action. The union barons are leading their members up the garden path on this strike action and I wholly condemn them for doing so.