Impact of rail strikes is 'weakening' in 'flexible working nation'

Has WFH defeated the train strikes? Impact of industrial action is ‘weakening’ as Britain becomes a ‘flexible working nation’ and the regular commute has ‘ceased to exist’, expert says as rail workers walk out

  • RMT strike cripples services today and will happen again on July 22 and July 29 
  • Some areas will see only about half of train services, while others will have none 

The impact of rail strike action is ‘weakening’ because so many Britons simply work from home in what has become a ‘flexible working nation’, an expert said today.

Passengers are once again ending rail disruption today amid fresh industrial action by train drivers and other workers in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), including station staff and train managers, walked out today and will strike again both this Saturday and on July 29, while drivers in Aslef have been banning overtime throughout this week.

For many commuters unable to get into the office, it has meant a return to logging on in their house – just as Britain was crowned Europe’s ‘working from home capital’.

Future of work expert Julia Hobsbawm OBE, founder of The Nowhere Office book and podcast, said: ‘In the week in which the Flexible Working Bill has passed through Parliament, there is no doubt that the UK has become a flexible working nation.

Speaking to MailOnline, she added: ‘This weakens the political impact of strikes because they no longer bring the traditional working day to a standstill – but this doesn’t make them any less inconvenient for travellers. 

Low numbers of passengers are seen at an unusually empty London Waterloo station today 

A quiet London King’s Cross station this morning during strike action by the RMT union

A lone traveller stands in front of a departure board at London Paddington station this morning

A quiet Salisbury railway station in Wiltshire today on another day of of train strikes

‘It definitely makes life much harder for employers struggling to create a new pattern of hybrid work. People need set days when they are all in the office and strikes make that impossible.’

When are rail strikes planned in Britain for the next few weeks?

There is currently a week-long overtime ban from Aslef running until tomorrow, which began on Monday, impacting many National Rail lines.

Separately, there is a national strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union today. There will be two further RMT national strikes this Saturday (July 22) and then next Saturday, July 29 .

And there will be severe disruption across the London Underground network between Sunday, July 23 and Saturday, July 29 due to strike action by Aslef and the RMT. 

TfL has said there will be ‘little or no Tube service’ between July 25 and 28 .

The RMT Tube strike will be on July 23, 25, 26, 27 and 28 . And the Aslef Tube strike will be on July 26 and 28 .

Members of Aslef will also again refuse to work overtime from Monday, July 31 to Saturday, August 5, again affecting many National Rail lines.

Ms Hobsbawm also said that the ‘regular commute has ceased to exist’. 

The Flexible Working Bill – officially called the ‘Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023’ – aims to give staff better access to flexible working. 

But some workers have claimed on social media that they are taking advantage of the strikes to dodge their duties, with one bragging: ‘Listen, I ain’t afraid to admit it. I’m working from home tomorrow due to train strikes. Who actually works when they ‘WFH’?’

Other Britons have boasted about getting an extra couple of hours in bed, with one person tweeting: ‘WFH, I can roll out of bed at 9am and take naps.’ While another added: ‘Thank f*** tomorrow is a strike so I can WFH.’

Meanwhile Will Beckett, co-founder and chief executive of the steak restaurant group Hawksmoor, said he had brought in an offer for steak frites for £15 on strike days to try to encourage customers.

He told the London Evening Standard: ‘Hawksmoor isn’t immune from these strikes – but as my grandfather used to say, we’re big enough and ugly enough to look after ourselves.

‘The impact on small businesses up and down the country – especially in city centres, which rely on the work crowd – is much more severe, as it is on hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in hospitality. These problems then ripple through the wider economy. 

‘When restaurants are quiet, they buy less meat, fish, vegetables, wine, and beer. They pay fewer taxes. The knock-on effects are legion.’

Rail rassengers were today advised to check their travel arrangements as the strike action at 14 train companies will see wide variations of services across the country with trains due to start later and finish much earlier than usual.

In some areas only around half of train services will run, while others will have no services at all.

Evening services on some lines are likely to be affected on the days before each strike and on the mornings following the action.

Passengers wait outside the gates of London Victoria station this morning amid the RMT strike 

Traffic queues on the A102M Blackwall Tunnel Approach in Greenwich this morning

Queues on the A102M Blackwall Tunnel Approach in Greenwich, south east London, today

It comes as Britain was crowned Europe’s ‘working from home capital’, according to figures compiled by Germany’s Ifo Institute.

READ MORE Britain is the Working From Home capital of Europe new study reveals, as MPs say the practice stunts productivity

UK employees spend an average of 1.5 days a week logged in from the study, the dining table or the patio – compared to an international average of 0.9 days.

In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, staff are absent for one day of the working week, a third less than in Britain. The French spend 0.6 days logged on remotely.

As for the rail strikes, MT general secretary Mick Lynch told Sky News today that ‘there is a general reaction from working people that they’re fed up with the way they’ve been treated in Britain’. 

‘We’ve been on strike for over a year, this campaign’s probably been running for two years,’ he said from a picket line at London’s Euston station. 

‘The issues are the same. They’re attacking our jobs. They’re making redundancies. They’re closing services. 

‘We haven’t had a pay rise for four years and the people that remain, they want to cut our conditions and issue new contracts of employment.

‘There is not an agreement in sight at the moment but we remain available for negotiation with the companies and with the Government, but that’s up to them to invite us back to the table so that we can work up some solutions to the dispute.’ 

A Rail Delivery Group spokesman said: ‘The upcoming rail strikes called by the RMT union and the overtime ban by Aslef will undoubtedly cause some disruption, affecting not only the daily commute of our passengers but also disrupting the plans of families during the summer holidays.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch talks on the phone on a picket line at London Euston today 

‘This will lead to disappointment, frustration, and financial strain for tens of thousands of people. We apologise for the inconvenience caused and understand the impact on individuals and businesses.

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‘While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced services between Monday July 17 and Saturday July 29, so our advice is to check before you travel.

‘Passengers with Advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.’

Mr Lynch said the ‘Government won’t allow a settlement to be developed through negotiations’ to avert the latest wave of strikes.

He told Sky News: ‘The strikes are part of a campaign that’s been ongoing for over a year now, they’ll have the effects that our members are out in heavy numbers picketing and taking part in the action from the south-west of England up to Scotland, and it will have the effects that the companies have brought on themselves, really.

‘Because we haven’t got a settlement, the Government won’t allow a settlement to be developed through negotiations so we’re hoping we can get some talks going soon and bring a conclusion to the dispute, but that needs two parties to come to the table in a spirit of goodwill, we’re ready to do that and hopefully they will be too.’

He added: ‘There’s plenty of impact on the railways. I know that many services are cancelled.

‘We don’t revel in that, we don’t want people to be disrupted. We’d much rather get back to work and get an agreement on the issues in the dispute.

‘My members are committed to the dispute – 20,000 of them are out today, they’ve voted in heavy numbers to continue the campaign until we get a settlement and they’re very committed to that.’

On the status of negotiations, he said: ‘Well we haven’t got any, we haven’t had any contact from the companies or from the Government for a couple of months, three or four months now.

‘That’s unfortunate; they seem to be locked in to their position, we think there are solutions available. They want to get some changes in the way that the railway is established – we can discuss those with them but we need an agreement, not imposition on top of us.’

Ahead of the strikes, Mr Lynch had said the action would show the country ‘just how important railway staff are to the running of the rail industry’.

‘My team of negotiators and I are available 24/7 for talks with the train operating companies and government,’ he said.

‘Yet quite incredibly neither party has made any attempt whatsoever to arrange any meetings or put forward a decent offer that can help us reach a negotiated solution.

‘The Government continues to shackle the companies and will not allow them to put forward a package that can settle this dispute.’

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘Train drivers don’t want to be inconveniencing the public. We want to resolve this dispute.

‘We have given the Government and rail operators plenty of opportunities to come to the table but it remains clear that they do not want a resolution.

‘Our members, the drivers who keep the railway running day in, day out, will not accept the Government’s attempts to force our industry into decline.

‘Rail travel is a vital part of the fight against climate change. Rail connectivity is essential to the country’s economy.

‘It’s time for a fair deal and a resolution so we can grow our railway and improve it for the future.’

Passengers were also warned to expect disruption to London Underground services next week because of industrial action by the RMT and Aslef in a separate dispute over jobs, pensions and conditions.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of London TravelWatch, said: ‘With RMT union members set for more rail strikes on July 22 and 29 and airport security workers set for industrial action throughout much of July and August, travel is going to be extremely challenging for passengers this summer.

‘We know – rightly or wrongly – that many train companies rely on staff overtime to deliver a service that passengers expect. So the refusal to work extra hours is another blow for passengers.

‘People may be getting used to planning their lives around strike days, but they still cause significant disruption and, in some cases, extra cost, especially when people are caught out by the delays and cancellations to services which spill over into the following day.

‘As families start getting ready for summer holidays, it’s time for all sides involved to bring an end to these seemingly endless disputes.’

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘The Government has met the rail unions, listened to them and facilitated improved offers on pay and reform. 

‘The union leaders should put these fair and reasonable offers to their members so this dispute can be resolved.’

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