Will rail strikes affect Greater Anglia trains from next month?

Greater Anglia train

Members of the RMT employed by Greater Anglia have voted in favour of strike action. - Credit: Nick Srugnell/Greater Anglia

Rail passengers - including commuters who have started heading back to their normal workplaces after covid restrictions - are waiting to hear whether a national strike will cause them major disruptions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) employed by 15 rail companies, including Greater Anglia, and Network Rail have voted for national industrial action over fears of low salary increases and job cuts.

The strike ballot result was announced late last night but no action can be called until mid-June because there has to be at least a 14-day "cooling-off period" to allow negotiations to take place.

The strike would affect guards and conductors on trains employed by the train operating companies and signallers employed by Network Rail and could cause major disruption to services.

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director, said: “We are working on a number of contingency options with the aim of providing our customers with the best possible service depending on the circumstances.

“We will keep passengers updated about what they can expect during any industrial action - should it go ahead - so that they can plan their journeys.”

Because it is a national strike, negotiations would be conducted by the Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail and the Department for Transport rather than individual train operating companies.

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Greater Anglia was referring inquiries about the possibility of industrial action to the Rail Delivery Group, whose chair Steve Montgomery said:  “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."

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.”

The government has warned that the rail industry is "on life support" following the pandemic which saw passenger numbers plummet and revenue slump.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is hugely disappointing and premature that the RMT is calling for industrial action before even entering discussions.

“Taxpayers across the country contributed £16 billion to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring not a single worker lost their job.

“The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25% down, and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs. Train travel for millions more people is now a choice, not a necessity. Strikes stop our customers choosing rail, and they might never return."

While business and leisure travel is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, the number of commuters is still significantly down as many office staff continue to work from home or work flexibly, only going to their workplace once or twice a week.

The fear for the companies will be that any disruption caused by strikes will make it less likely that commuters will return in pre-pandemic numbers.