UK music festivals hit by an encore of rail strikes
Out on stage for the twenty-fourth time since last summer. The August Bank Holiday (public holiday) in England was put off key by another railway staff strike. On Saturday, approximately 20,000 rail staff trades unionists walked out for the day, in an action organised by the RMT union. The strike was the result of an ongoing dispute concerning pay settlements for workers, job security and conditions. The new issue of ticket office closures was also citied in the grievance.
Music lovers at both ends of England suffered from the latest rail strike, with services badly curtailed on Saturday – the middle day of both the Reading and Leeds Festivals, two of Europe’s biggest outdoor events. In London, the massive Notting Hill Carnival was hit as several passenger train operators around the capital were forced to reduce or cancel services. There were no trains at all from Reading Station on Saturday night, leaving festival goers in the dark.
Headline action staged
At Reading station it was quieter than the silent disco for overnight revellers at the nearby music festival. That may have struck a chord with Mick Lynch, the head of the RMT union, who called the latest strike. He chorused that strikes would persist until a new and agreeable pay settlement for the workers was achieved. RMT sources have said the determination has set the stage for the long standoff between the union and government authorities – which the union maintain have been blocking any local agreements between the union and individual operators.
The strike encompassed workers from 14 different passenger train operators in England, marking the twenty-fourth such action since last summer. The dispute has never affected Northern Ireland, and has not involved the freight sector – although a significant proportion of freight services were disrupted in the early stages – due to the involvement of safety staff from Network Rail. Settlements have also been reached in Wales and Scotland, but cross-border services were once again affected.
Encore from support act
The UK Government’s Department for Transport contended that rail staff had been presented with pay offers that were “fair and reasonable.” Despite these assertions, the impasse between the parties prompted the initiation of the strike, ultimately causing significant disruption across the country. That was felt most keenly at the iconic Notting Hill Carnival in London, and the vast Reading and Leeds music festivals that bore the brunt of the strike’s consequences. Network Rail reminded festival-goers that Reading station closed early on Saturday evening. No traffic ran after 1900hrs, until the following morning.
“We’re expecting to see thousands of extra passengers passing through Reading station this bank holiday weekend to go to the festival and would remind attendees that there will be no trains home on Saturday evening because of strike action”, said Bernadette Sachse, Network Rail’s station manager for Reading station, speaking ahead of the festival and the strike. “It’s important that people get to where they need to be safely, and to support the high volumes of passengers we will have extra customer support services in action to make sure that the station is pleasant for all who visit.“If you’re travelling by train to the festival, please remember that there will be a limited timetable in operation on Saturday and to check before you travel to avoid disappointment.”
For their own encore, RMT has further action planned for 2 September. Support act ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, are set to walk out on Friday 1 September, and ban overtime on 2 September (effectively a strike since weekends are largely covered by overtime working). As well as a new pay deal, the RMT is demanding an end to job losses resulting from the closure of hundreds of ticket offices.