Rail passengers are facing travel disruption on the day of the Eurovision Song Contest final as RMT union members strike again in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.
Fourteen train companies are affected, with many running limited services.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the strikes were “cynically targeting” the final, taking place in Liverpool on Saturday night.
But the RMT denies planning strikes to coincide with the event in Liverpool.
It said Saturday was chosen for a strike as it was the last date allowed under employment laws.
Its general secretary Mick Lynch said he was sorry for the disruption but added that people have had “plenty of time” to make alternative travel arrangements, with the union having given more than two weeks’ notice.
The government says the RMT has turned down a “fair and reasonable” pay offer, but the union denies this.
Train drivers who are part of a different union, Aslef, went on strike on Friday, with some parts of England having no trains all day. It also denies planning strikes to impact Eurovision.
Merseyrail, which operates trains around Liverpool, said it was unaffected by Saturday’s strikes and would run late night services.
But most train companies travelling to and from Liverpool have a limited service as a result of the strike action, according to National Rail.
National Express said it had added 33 extra services to Liverpool to help fans get to Eurovision.
Train companies have warned there will be “little or no services” across large areas of the network and said passengers should be prepared for disruption on the days immediately after the strikes.
Speaking at a picket line outside London Euston station, Mr Lynch said today was the last Saturday of the union’s six-month mandate in which it could strike.
He then told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We’ve not targeted Wembley or Liverpool or any of the activities that people get up to” – a reference to both Eurovision and to the football National League play-off final at Wembley on Saturday afternoon.
“There isn’t a day where people aren’t undertaking important activities, in business life or personal life.
“We don’t set the date of Eurovision. We don’t set the anti-trade union laws that require us to have a mandate that expires after six months.”
He said the union “wouldn’t target a cup final”, but did not rule out considering strikes taking place on 3 June, when the men’s FA Cup Final will be held.
Future strike dates could be announced as early as next week, he said, adding that the union was available to meet with the government and employers at any time to try to agree a deal.
He has written to the transport secretary calling for an special summit between ministers, train companies and unions to end chaos on the railways.
Which lines are affected?
The following rail operators will be impacted:
Avanti West Coast, c2c, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Gatwick Express, Great Northern, GWR, Greater Anglia (including Stansted Express), Heathrow Express, LNER, London Northwestern Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, Southeastern, Southern, Thameslink, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Railway.
Find out more here.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents 14 train companies, said rail users should plan ahead and check services before travel. It warned that with fewer services running there would be “wide variations”.
Rebecca Dane-Alderman was planning to travel from Milton Keynes to Worthing to watch the Eurovision final with her best friend – a tradition they have shared every year, except for during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said most of Friday was spent trying to find alternative routes, but they were unsuccessful, so instead will watch it in separate locations over a video call.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Most of yesterday I was quite sad and I felt quite devastated by it all.
“I know there are bigger problems in the world, but it was just something that, like I said is a tradition to us, and we were really looking forward to doing.
“I really hope there is some sort of resolution soon… Because it impacts people in a multitude of ways and less obvious ways than people can imagine.”
Kaisa, a fan from Finland, is hoping to travel to the Eurovision final in Liverpool by train – but has bus tickets just in case.
Speaking outside London’s Euston station, she told the BBC: “We knew that there were train strikes, we actually got the bus tickets as well, so we still have them in the back pocket if something goes wrong, we still can take the bus.
“It’s looking good, I saw on the schedule the train’s running so we are hopeful to get there in time.”
The RDG offered rail workers a backdated pay rise of 5% for 2022.
A second year’s pay rise was dependent on reforms being negotiated.
Mr Harper has called on the RMT to allow its members to have a vote on the offer that the RDG has put forward.
But Mr Lynch said the RDG had “torpedoed” the talks aimed at ending the long-running dispute because agreement would have prohibited further industrial action.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We haven’t got enough people, and our members, and Aslef members, are having to work extended shifts, extra days, six and seven days out of the week, when they’re sick and tired of it.
“They should be able to earn a living within the working week that’s in their contract.”
Meanwhile, train drivers with Aslef have rejected a two-year offer which would see members receive a backdated pay rise of 4% for 2022 and a 4% increase this year.
However, there has been some resolution between the rail industry and the unions. A revised offer from Network Rail, which owns and operates the UK’s railway infrastructure, was accepted by RMT members on 20 March, ending that separate dispute.
Aslef drivers will strike again on 31 May and 3 June, the day of the FA Cup final.
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