Trains stabled and stations empty as RMT strike begins in Cambridgeshire
- Credit: Terry Harris
A railway strike is underway throughout the country, with trains stabled and picket lines in front of stations throughout Cambridgeshire.
Staff at Network Rail and 13 rail firms began a three-day walkout today (Jun 21) amid a dispute over a pay and the potential for redundancies during a cost-of-living crisis.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps MP condemned the strike action and said it is up to rail firms to negotiate with employers over pay, but supporters of the walkout say workers' goodwill has been taken for granted by the government.
Councillor Neil Shailer, the Labour Party's Cambridgeshire County Council transport spokesperson, said: "It's a fundamental right to be able to remove or withdraw your labour.
"The chatter between us in the Labour group is that these rights have been under attack for some time.
"Of course, we support peaceful picketers.
"Workers across various sectors - particularly NHS staff and frontline workers, including railway staff - gave it their all during the pandemic.
"They are being taken for granted by this government and they deserve good working conditions, support and don't deserve to suffer real-terms pay cuts during a cost-of-living crisis."
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In a June 16 House of Commons debate, Grant Shapps suggested strike action is "unfair" based on railway workers' high wages.
"Even if you take the median within the rail sector itself - it's £44,000, significantly above the median average in this country," Mr Shapps said.
The RMT said the median salary of its members is around £31,000.
According to the government's own National Careers Service, a train station worker is typically contracted to work between 43 and 45 hours per week.
The salary usually ranges from £17,500 - below the "real living wage" of £9.90 per hour - to £27,000 per annum.
Mr Shapps told Sky News' Kay Burley on the first day of strike action: "The employers are the people to be 'round the table with the unions.
"Employers have met with unions on 60 occasions."
He added: "If I thought there was even a one-in-a-million chance that my being in the room would help sort it out, then I would be there."
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT Union which has organised today's strike, said: "Faced with such an aggressive agenda of cuts to jobs, conditions, pay and pensions, RMT has no choice but to defend our members industrially to stop this race to the bottom."
He added: "RMT remains available for discussions that will settle this dispute and ensure our transport system can operate without disruption."
Network Rail staff are on strike, which means there are only a limited number of people available to look after railway signals and track.
This has led to line closures between Peterborough, Ely Cambridge and Ipswich, and between Ely and King's Lynn.
In Cambridgeshire, staff at CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia and LNER are on strike. Staff at Great Northern and Thameslink are taking "action short of a strike", but passengers on some routes face severe disruption due to the situation at Network Rail.