Christmas train travel has been thrown into further chaos after rail unions announced another round of strikes.
Leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) said on Monday that a fresh series of strikes will take place from December 24 through to December 27.
This is in addition to the strikes that were already due to take place on December 13 and 14, and again on Dec 16 and 17. More are scheduled for Jan 3, 4, 6 and 7.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the new strike dates are “incredibly disappointing” as he accused the RMT of causing “harmful disruption” to passengers.
The latest announcement came after rail unions rejected an eight per cent pay offer that would have averted debilitating strikes next week.
RMT boss Mick Lynch, who has led the assault on passengers for much of the year by leading strike action that has blighted services, was last night accused of “ruining people’s Christmas”.
Rail industry leaders pointed out that Monday was the deadline for the RMT to cancel the strikes next week, because if they leave it any later it will become impossible to reinstate the timetables in time to get trains running.
But instead of calling off next week’s strikes, the union announced a fresh round of industrial action which will disrupt critical engineering works as well as passenger services.
“It’s obviously that time of year when people are travelling further afield, getting on a train to come home to see their mum and dad, friends and family,” a rail industry source told The Telegraph. “Those dates are also quite precious for lots of people.”
On Sunday night, the rail unions rejected an eight per cent pay rise, which is bigger than the pay deal offered to nurses and other public sector workers.
As well as the salary boost over two years, it guaranteed no compulsory redundancies until April 2024.
Rail unions have refused to say what level of pay offer they would accept but had previously been seeking a rise in line with inflation, currently at 11 per cent.
Trade union leaders were then given until 6am on Tuesday to respond to an offer of a nine per cent pay rise by Network Rail, which runs stations, tracks and signals.
Former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke said that the latest round of rail strikes are “dreadful” adding: “Ruining people's Christmases with an eight per cent pay rise over two years on the table (and no compulsory redundancies).
“The railway received £16 billion - £600/household - in emergency funding during Covid and drivers' median salary is £59k, staff's is £44k.”
On Monday evening, the RMT said it has decided today to put the nine per cent offer from Network Rail to its members with a recommendation to reject it.
If a deal cannot be agreed by 9.30am on Tuesday to suspend industrial action starting a week later, rail bosses will begin cancelling services during strike days.
A series of frenzied negotiations, facilitated by Government ministers, have taken place over the last 72 hours as rail bosses seek to avoid eight days of walkouts.
Launching its new round of strikes from December 24 to 27, the RMT union said: “This strike coincides with the wind down of passenger services and the commencement of engineering works.”
However, they admitted that passenger services will nonetheless be affected by the strikes which will likely mean that only one fifth of normal services are running.
Mr Lynch said: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members”.
On Monday, rail union TSSA called off strike action planned for December and is putting an offer to members in Network Rail.
However, an offer from the Rail Delivery Group has been rejected meaning industrial action in train operators remains on the cards unless progress can be made.
Mr Harper said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas.
“The Government has played its part by facilitating a fair and decent offer but, by instructing its members to reject it, the RMT has failed to play its part and our rail network now faces more harmful disruption rather than helpful discussion.''