Those of us who are rail-travellers are expecting more national rail strikes. In Wales, however, there is no dispute between unions and Transport for Wales, but trains don’t run because Network Rail, owned by our Tory government in London, looks after the track in all Britain, not just England. Scotland has its own problems but trains in Northern Ireland are strike-free. Also, there is no strike around Liverpool where the local train company and unions have agreed a wage increase of 7 per cent as part of their normal pay negotiations. But the rest of England suffers.
UK inflation is 9 per cent (in France 6 per cent, Switzerland 3 per cent) and the rail unions have been offered 2 per cent with an extra 1 per cent to agree compulsory redundancies. They, along with other public sector workers such as NHS staff, teachers, council staff and ‘bin-men’, have suffered zero or tiny rises over years of Tory austerity. Average earnings for all of us are lower now than 10 years ago according to the Office of National Statistics. In 2021, private sector wages went up by 5.4 per cent but public sector by only 2.5 per cent. The accountants PwC increased their wages by 9 per cent last week.
Meanwhile, our Tory ministers claim the average annual earnings for rail workers is £44,000. But this correct figure includes the non-striking highly-paid train drivers in a different union. And it does not include the trains’ cleaners who earn the national minimum wage and are not classed by the government as rail workers. These factors reduced the average striker’s wage to £31,000 a year (the same as for all nurses). Meanwhile, rail bosses annually earn between £60,000 and £70,000, with 8 of them being in the top 10 highest paid in all the public sector (and private-sector rail bosses earn even more).
Given the agreements reached in Wales, Northern Ireland and Liverpool, should we be asking our politicians why there isn’t agreement in England? The Tory omnishambles continues.
Michael Heylings, Mitcheldean