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Business leaders have called for urgent action on train strikes amid warnings that a walkout over Christmas could hit London’s economy by £300 million.
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He urged rail unions, ministers and train operators to work together and hold talks to avoid “debilitating” industrial action over the festive period.
More than 40,000 RMT members across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will strike on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December and on 3, 4, 6 and 7 January to dispute jobs, terms and conditions and pay. Overtime will also be banned from December 18 to January 2, making it even more difficult for train companies to finalize timetables.
Simon French, chief economist at Citibrokers Panmure Gordon, estimated there would be an overall UK-wide impact of £650 million in December, with an impact of £550 million in January. London would account for around a quarter of the total £1.2 billion loss of output – or around £300 million.
After facing the brunt of Covid in the last two years, traders were expecting big gains this Christmas. Pubs, clubs and restaurants were particularly keen to capitalize on the festive party season with the winter World Cup.
But strike action is set to drop on both semi-final match days. Munia Baruah, deputy chief executive of BusinessLDN, said: “The strikes over Christmas and New Year will be a huge blow to hard-pressed businesses doing all they can to navigate the recession.
“We would urge all parties to work together to avoid further chaos on the network, which would make the difficult economic situation worse. After a row of disrupted Christmases, Londoners and businesses deserve much better.”
Simon Thomas, executive chairman of the Hippodrome casino in Leicester Square, said he was already receiving calls from customers warning of low numbers at planned Christmas celebrations.
“Enough,” he said. Scrooge will tip his hat to the strikers. They have a sinister, bloody-minded resolve to quash the trade recovery.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: “The rail strike is a lose-lose and another round during the festive period will hurt London and its businesses for no good reason.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper is preparing for talks with rail union chiefs this week. This will be the first time he has met her after being appointed to the role last month.
Government sources said Mr Harper would “do everything he can” to help facilitate a deal, but talks are “ultimately between train operators and unions”.
Mayor Sadiq Khan said the train attacks were “worrisome”. He said: “Many people come from outside London – day trippers – to spend money at the theater and in our shops.
“I would encourage Mark Harper, I would encourage private train operating companies, I would encourage the RMT to get round the table and sort this out.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride told TalkTV: “The Secretary of State is actually meeting rail union leaders later this week, so talks are taking place.” But he added that “necessary discussions need to take place between the rail operating companies, Network Rail and the unions”.
Nurses, civil servants and postal workers have also voted in favor of the strike, and teachers are being voted on. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned his cabinet yesterday that Britain faces a “challenging” winter of strikes, inflation and NHS backlogs, while food and energy costs soar and inflation hits a 40-year high of 11.1 per cent. is on
The government said contingency plans have been drawn up to “mitigate” potential challenges in the coming months.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said industrial action was launched after talks with the Rail Distribution Group, which represents train operating companies, broke down. The RMT said the operators canceled the meeting on Monday with just 55 minutes’ notice.
Mr Lynch said today: “This whole process has become a farce that only the new Secretary of State can solve.”
“In the meantime, our message to the public is that we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to you, but we urge you to direct your anger and frustration at the government and railway employers.”
Tim Shoveler, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said “progress has been made in these last two weeks” but “we still haven’t had that breakthrough”.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “These strikes are not only hurting the economy but they are also cutting out people in need of urgent care, school going children and hardworking families.”
Government to hold talks with unions to avoid Christmas train strikes
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