Picket lines have been manned at Margate and Ramsgate railway stations today (June 21) on the first of three days of strike action by RMT union members.
RMT is shutting down the country’s railway network today, Thursday (June 23) and June 25, saying it is due to the inability of rail employers to come to a negotiated settlement with RMT.
The RMT say Network Rail and train operating companies have subjected their staff to multiyear pay freezes and plan to cut thousands of jobs. Despite intense talks with the rail bosses, RMT says it has not been able to secure a pay proposal nor a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.
Train operators have now made an offer although there is no further offer from Network Rail following the one which was rejected last Friday.
The RMT National Executive Committee has now found both sets of proposals to be unacceptable.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: “The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the relevant rates of inflation, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years.
“At the behest of the Government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against Compulsory Redundancies.
“The RMT supports the campaign for a square deal for all working people in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, and our current campaign is a part of that more general campaign which means that public services have to be properly funded and all workers properly paid with good conditions.
“RMT remains available for discussions that will settle this dispute and ensure our transport system can operate without disruption.”
RMT members taking strike action are conductors, platform staff, shunters, ticket office staff, signallers and Network Rail workers.
For Southeastern only 35 of its 180 stations are open.
Only the London-Orpington and Dartford lines remain open within London, running a very limited service.
There are no trains serving most of Kent, including the Medway Towns, Tonbridge, Maidstone, Thanet, Canterbury, Folkestone and Dover, with Highspeed trains only running between London St Pancras and Ashford.
Passengers may be unable to board trains at stations where a limited service is running, especially at locations such as Ashford and Ebbsfleet.
The last trains back from London will be much earlier than usual, so there is a risk that not everyone will be able to make their return journey.
Southeastern is unable to provide rail replacement buses or taxis and is reiterating the advice not to travel on strike days because it is likely that customers will be unable to board trains, or are unable to make their return journey, before the railway closes down in the early evening.
Cllr Karen Constantine, who was on the Ramsgate picket today, said: “I was pleased to get able to join the RMT members this morning. Whilst no-one welcomes a strike, and RMT members did not take this decision without a great deal of thought.
“I support them because their safety, and ours, the travelling public, is paramount. Some of the cuts the Government are seeking to push through, will negatively impact safety. I spoke to one OBM ‘On Board Manager’, who explained he used a ‘bridge system’ to rescue passengers stranded on a train in a remote location earlier this year. You simply can’t do that without training and team work.
“Also plans to close ticket offices in favour of ticket machines are shortsighted and will cause consumer upset and delays.
“I will be on the picket line, which isn’t on railway property, this Thursday and Saturday from 7.30 am and I welcome local residents to join me to show support.”
Rail union TSSA has also served notice to ballot hundreds of workers at Southeastern for strike action and action short of strike in a dispute over pay, conditions and job security.
The union is demanding a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies for 2022, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions, and a pay increase which reflects the rising cost of living.
Ballot opens on June 23 and closes July 11 with earliest action expected by July 25.