December train strikes set to deliver £800m hammer blow to UK

December train strikes set to deliver £800m hammer blow to UK

November 29, 2023

December of strike misery looms: Rail workers will walk out this week in ‘£800million blow’ to pubs, bars and restaurants over Christmas

  • Rail strikes have already cost the UK economy more than £5bn, analysis shows 

Britain’s beleaguered pubs, bars and restaurants are set to be dealt an £800million hammer blow at Christmas when militant rail unions launch a string of walkouts from this Saturday. 

The UK ground to a halt on occasions after RMT boss Mick Lynch spearheaded round after round of strikes that appeared to inspire other sectors – including healthcare – to launch industrial action too.

Among the parts of the economy hurt by the strikes include pubs and restaurants, which had already been crippled by draconian and damaging lockdown restrictions imposed during the Covid pandemic.

And with rail walkouts planned for December 2 to December 8 (Saturday to Friday), experts fear that the hospitality sector is set to be dealt another belting blow. 

One analysis by UKHospitality estimates that the walkouts could wipe £800million off the sector. It comes after a separate analysis predicted that rail strikes since last summer have cost Britain’s economy more than £5billion.

An empty Kings Cross station in central London seen during last year’s rail strike over Christmas

Kate Nicholls, pictured, has urged all parties to get around the negotiating table to avoid a shortfall in revenue

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls has warned that the ongoing dispute could cost the industry up to £800million over the winter holidays and has already cost the hospitality business more than £3billion.

Full list of train strikes in December 2023

  • Saturday, December 2 – East Midlands Railway (EMR) and London North Eastern Railway (LNER)
  • Sunday, December 3 – Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern Thameslink, and West Midlands Trains (WMT)
  • Tuesday, December 5 – C2C and Greater Anglia
  • Wednesday, December 6 – Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, the SWR main line and depot, and on the Island Line
  • Thursday, December 7 – CrossCountry and Great Western Railway
  • Friday, December 8 – Northern and TransPennine Express

Christmas time is particularly important for the UK hospitality sector because people tend to cut down on their spending between January to March.

The holiday season is a vital source of income for certain bars and restaurants to survive.

Ms Nicholls said: ‘These strikes will hit hospitality businesses at the start of the critical festive period and will devastate trading during one of the busiest weeks of the year, costing the sector up to £800million.

‘The ongoing rail dispute has already cost the sector £3.5billion over the past year and a half and continues to disrupt businesses, prevent staff from working and interrupt families’ Christmas plans.’

Industrial action last year caused a predicted £1.5billion in losses for the UK hospitality sector. 

Earlier this year, hospitality brands Greene King, Fuller’s, Mitchells & Butlers and Wasabi have signed an open letter, alongside UKHospitality, to the Transport Secretary, RMT, ASLEF and Rail Delivery Group, urging them to ‘redouble efforts’ to resolve the ongoing dispute.

According to Keith Knowles, CEO of Beds & Bars, its sales were down 70% on average on strike days.

Meanwhile, Thorley Taverns, which runs almost 20 pubs in Kent, said strikes had ‘decimated’ the number of visitors from London to the Kent coast. 

RMT boss Mick Lynch was labelled Mick ‘Grinch’ after the 2022 walkouts, which scuppered thousands of people’s Christmas travel plans.

A food court in Carnaby Street is empty during 2022 rail walk outs

Cafes and bars in Soho appeared empty during what is usually a busy trading period for the hospitality and retail industry last year

Scenes at Paddington Station in London as members of the drivers’ Aslef union stage a 24-hour strike on October 4

But earlier this month, it was reported that an agreement with the 14 rail firms, represented by the Rail Delivery Group, was reached with the RMT – which is the UK’s biggest rail union.

Members will vote on the offer in an online referendum that closes on November 30.

But if the deal is accepted it will ‘terminate the national dispute mandate’ and ‘pause and respite from industrial action over the Christmas period and into spring next year’.

However, there is still an ongoing dispute with the train drivers’ union Aslef.

Ms Nicholls added: ‘I would urge all parties to get back round the table to resume negotiations and work urgently to reach a solution that avoids these devastating strikes, including following the lead of the RMT who have reached an agreement to avoid strikes over Christmas.

‘Hospitality businesses rely on revenue made during the busy festive period to see them through the fallow months of January to March, so it’s essential strikes during December are avoided.’

The hospitality industry has already been majorly hit after years of lockdowns during the pandemic.

RMT boss Mick Lynch (pictured) was labelled Mick ‘Grinch’ after the 2022 walkouts

Aslef members on a picket line at London Euston station in September 2023

Also, the cost of living crisis has made people cut down on their expenses meaning fewer people are eating out.

It is expected that RMT members will vote for a settlement.

But strikes by Aslef seem set to continue, which will bring misery to the rail network.

Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan accused rail firms and ministers of staging a ‘land grab for terms and conditions right across the board for a 20 per cent pay cut’.

The latest announcement of industrial action comes as a possible retaliation to comments made by the transport secretary, Mark Harper, after he said Aslef should propose an offer to its drivers that was branded as ‘risible’ by the union in April.

‘There is, most people think, a perfectly fair and reasonable offer on the table and I genuinely don’t understand why Aslef won’t put it to their members,’ Mr Harper told MPs at the transport committee on Wednesday, November 15.

The union responded by saying that the offer was no longer being considered, effectively meaning it had been rejected in further votes for strikes.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘What the minister apparently fails to understand is that we have received overwhelming mandates, on enormous turnouts, for more industrial action. Our members have spoken and we know what they think … it is a clear rejection of the offer that was made in April.’

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