Union leaders have rejected revised offers to end industrial action on the railways – and announced more strikes over Christmas.
RMT members at Network Rail are being urged to back the escalation but will be asked in a referendum whether they should proceed with strikes following a new pay and conditions offer.
The referendum could represent a nod to discontent over lost pay through strikes to date or, on the other hand, demonstrate solidarity over their fight.
The union’s leader Mick Lynch urged them to reject Network Rail’s proposals, which he described as “poor” and revealed plans for further strikes – from 6pm on Christmas Eve to 6am to 27 December.
Just 24 hours earlier, the RMT had dismissed outright a similar offer from train operators to end their separate dispute.
Walkouts had already been announced for 13-14, 16-17 December, prompting the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing the operators, to warn of a month of major disruption due to the action.
The rail dispute is just one of many threatening to deliver a winter of discontent as unions seek pay rises in line with the rate of inflation to help shield their members from the cost of living crisis.
Strikes every day before Christmas – where and why
There is the looming threat of action by nurses, firefighters and National Highways staff.
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How will strikes affect businesses? It is building on a wave of strikes among other professions including teachers and bus drivers.
The dispute between Royal Mail and its 115,000 frontline workers has become increasingly bitter and shows no sign of letting up in time for Christmas following a wave of action over the Black Friday discount shopping bonanza and beyond.
The government is coming under increasing pressure from backbenchers to press ahead with reforms to strike laws that would guarantee a minimum level of service.
The prospect of more intense strike action on the railways is not just bad news for those seeking to travel ahead of the holidays.
Business has become increasingly vocal on the need for a resolution, saying the action is costing hospitality and retailers billions of pounds at a time they can least afford it.
Mr Lynch said of the state of play: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members.”
Further talks with the RDG are planned for Tuesday.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced it was calling off Network Rail strikes planned for December so it could put an offer to its members.
The TSSA had been due to strike on 17 December and take other forms of industrial action from 13 December.