Christmas plans torn up and rescheduled in attempt to cope with rail strikes

Commuters at Kings Cross in London - ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Commuters at Kings Cross in London - ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Christmas plans are being torn up and brought forward across the country in order to cope with the most disruptive rail strikes in more than three decades.

As the nation prepares for the first Christmas without strict coronavirus restrictions since 2019, many have no choice but to reschedule their festivities to avoid getting caught out by trade unions determined to bring the country to a halt.

Hospitality venues are being "inundated" with requests from companies to rearrange their Christmas parties to avoid clashing with rail strikes from 13 December, traditionally one of the busiest weeks of the year.

Meanwhile, businesses are "tearing their hair out" over work rotas, with many expected to extend working from home policies to ensure staff can get back to their loved ones in time for the holidays.

It comes as customers flocked to the high street last week to get their shopping done early to avoid strike chaos and make postage deadlines.

Britain is expected to suffer a strike almost every day until 2023, with no sign of the chaos letting up in the new year with dates already pencilled in for January. 

This week the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers (RMT) announced a fresh series of walkouts from Dec 24 through to Dec 27 after rejecting an eight per cent pay offer that would have averted debilitating strikes next week.

This is in addition to the strikes that were already due on Dec 13, 14, 16 and 17. More are scheduled for Jan 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Michael Kill, CEO Night Time Industries Association, said the "looming rail strikes have turned the industry upside down" and will have "a huge impact" on businesses.

"Hordes of companies have been scrambling to bring their Christmas parties forward to this week, as opposed to next, as they try to work round the industrial action", he said.

"People have also been cancelling parties, with many deciding to leave earlier for festive destinations to avoid the chaos."

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association said: "instead of being able to trade normally for the first time in three years, pubs in towns and cities across the UK are now seeing swathes of people rearranging Christmas parties and cancelling bookings".

It is not only hospitality that has seen customers manoeuvre their plans in light of the strikes.

According to retail experts Springboard, footfall rose by 5.4 per cent across all UK retail destinations last week compared to the week before, with increases of 6.9 per cent on high streets.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard insights director, said the increase was more significant than predicted, suggesting "shoppers may well be visiting stores and destinations ahead of when they otherwise would due to the proposed rail strikes."

Those wanting to send gifts to their families will have to do so a week earlier than usual because of six days of strikes announced by the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), which is responsible for 115,000 postal workers.

Royal Mail announced packages must be sent by Dec 12, six days earlier than Dec 2020 - at the height of the coronavirus pandemic - otherwise presents may not be delivered on time for Christmas day.

Road agencies also urged motorists to drive to their loved ones "earlier rather than later" to avoid chaos on the roads as we edge closer to Christmas.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "People reshaping their Christmas plans to deliver presents and festive cheer by car should consider making their journeys sooner rather than later as the scheduled disruption on the trains mean last-minute trips could be even more than usually stressful."

Employers may be left with no choice than to allow staff to work from home because of travel chaos.

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), an industry body for HR staff and management professionals, said rail disruption will "likely" see organisations "extend their working from home or remote working policies during the forthcoming rail strikes."

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “Many small business owners in all sectors will be tearing their hair out over the impact on working schedules".

Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, called the Christmas rail strikes "incredibly disappointing" and accused the RMT of causing "harmful disruption".

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said on Tuesday "It’s incredibly disappointing that the RMT has chosen to take further damaging action instead of recognising this is a generous and fair deal that could have brought this dispute to an end."

The RMT did not respond to requests for comment.