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New cleaner walkout set to hit West Norfolk train services as union warns of 'national rail strike' to come

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A fresh round of strike action by cleaners working on trains to and from West Norfolk is set to begin next week.

Members of the RMT union picketed outside Lynn’s station last month as part of an ongoing campaign for their hourly pay to be increased to £15.

Now, 11 further days of walkouts affecting several operators including this area’s main service provider, Great Northern, are set to begin next Wednesday, April 27.

Train cleaners, seen here picketing outside King's Lynn Railway Station last month, are set to take further strike action next week.
Train cleaners, seen here picketing outside King's Lynn Railway Station last month, are set to take further strike action next week.

And union leaders have warned of the potential for a summer of disruption amid plans for a much wider strike ballot.

Cleaners working on Great Northern trains are not employed directly by the service operator but by a contractor, the Churchill Group.

The RMT says it only pays its staff the minimum wage of £8.91 an hour, though that claim is disputed, and offered staff working outside London an increase of just 10 pence per hour.

Its general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Churchill have shown a complete disregard for key workers who were rightly considered heroes in the pandemic.

“RMT will continue to ramp up its campaign and ensure that these greedy multimillion pound contractors are stripped of their ability to exploit workers on our railways.”

The union is also demanding sick pay and free travel rights for cleaners, in line with other rail workers, as well as the right to be directly employed by the operator.

Great Northern has previously said it was confident its services would not be affected by the action.

But there is the threat of much wider disruption to come because of plans for a strike ballot involving more than 40,000 members nationally who work either for train operators like Great Northern or Network Rail, the body responsible for maintaining tracks and signalling equipment.

The vote, which will open next Tuesday and is due to run until May 24, has been called in response to plans by Network Rail, which the union claims would see more than 2,500 safety critical jobs lost and increase the risk of accidents.

Network Rail bosses have described the plans as a “modernisation” programme intended to build a “sustainable future” for the company and urged the RMT to work with them.

Government officials have also described the effective threat of a national rail strike as “irresponsible”.

But Mr Lynch insisted the plans would spell “disaster” and claimed workers would not tolerate further limits on their employment conditions.

He added: “The way for trade unions to effectively take on the cost-of-living crisis is to stand up for their members at work and take industrial action when employers are not moved by the force of reasoned argument.

“A national rail strike will bring the country to a standstill, but our members livelihoods and passenger safety are our priorities.”

The strike threats emerged in the same week that an unprecedented ticket sale offer, designed to encourage a boost in demand for rail travel after Covid, was launched.

Passengers can book up to half price tickets for travel before May 27 from now until May 2. For full details, visit www.nationalrail.co.uk/railsale.

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