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Union backs 'national rail strike' – but West Norfolk operator reprieved in vote

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Rail passengers in West Norfolk could escape the worst disruption after plans for an effective national strike were backed.

Members of the RMT union overwhelmingly backed walkouts against Network Rail and 13 train operators in a ballot, the result of which was announced last night.

Staff working for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the parent company of West Norfolk's main operator Great Northern, rejected a strike, though they did vote to take action short of a strike.

Great Northern services look set to escape the worst of any disruption if what is being billed as a national rail strike goes ahead.
Great Northern services look set to escape the worst of any disruption if what is being billed as a national rail strike goes ahead.

But there are still fears of widespread disruption if signallers, employed by Network Rail, do walk out.

And it says it also wants a "negotiated settlement" to the dispute.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Today's overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union's approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.

"Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT."

Union leaders have warned that the walkouts could begin within weeks as part of an ongoing dispute over pay, job cuts and safety fears.

They claim plans by Network Rail, which is responsible for maintaining tracks and signalling equipment, could lead to the loss of up to 2,500 jobs and increase the risk of accidents.

But Network Rail says the plans aim to build a sustainable future for the industry.

And GTR bosses insist they want a settlement before any walkouts take place.

Chief operating officer Angie Doll said today: "While GTR colleagues did not vote for strike action, we are extremely disappointed that passengers across the country now face possible rail disruption just as we are starting to recover from the pandemic.

"We urge the RMT to work with Network Rail and all train operators to seek a swift resolution to this to avoid any disruption for passengers."

The RMT has described the ballot as "the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers" since the network was privatised nearly 30 years ago.

It said that, overall, 89 per cent of members who voted had backed strike action with 11 per cent against, on a 71 per cent turnout.

But Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents all train operators and Network Rail, said: “Our railways must adapt to attract more passengers back and reduce our running costs. It is not fair to ask taxpayers to continue to shoulder the burden when there are other vital services that need public support.

“Nobody wins when industrial action threatens to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of passengers and businesses and puts the industry’s recovery at risk.

“We urge the RMT leadership to behave responsibly, and to talk to us to find a way to avoid damaging industrial action and secure the long-term future of the industry.”

Great Northern services have already been affected by industrial action this year involving cleaners who are employed by a sub-contractor.

Greater Anglia, which runs a small number of daily services between Lynn and London Liverpool Street, is among the operators where RMT members have voted for full strike action.

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