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In recent weeks, Britain’s largest rail union, The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) announced a number of train strikes throughout June 2022 – with more to come in the coming months - that are set to have a significant effect on the UK’s critical supply chains.

This comes as individuals working in the rail industry raise several disputes over the pay and redundancies of workers across the UK.

UK money falling out of a glass jar

So, what factors have contributed towards Britain’s rail strikes?

With inflation predicted to reach 11% over the coming months, the RMT have argued that the forecasted pay rises from train operators - which sit as low as 2% - are simply not enough, and should be at least 7% (Reuters) given the impacts that the cost-of-living crisis is having on individuals across the UK.

Whilst rail companies fail to offer an adequate level of support to individuals impacted by rising costs, Transport for London also announced in March 2022 that a possible pension reform would cut benefits and almost 2,000 jobs (Financial Times).

Although the government hope to save as much as £100mn a year through a pension reform which would help to recover TFL’s huge financial loss since the pandemic; changes to pension schemes could have a detrimental impact on the “income that staff receive in retirement which would be neither fair nor sustainable” in both the present and future years to come (Pensions Expert).

The effect on the wider supply chain

The national rail strike poses a critical threat toward the UK’s already damaged supply chain, which over the past year has been faced with rising wage inflation, labour shortages and low unemployment rates, to name a few.

As construction workers are forced to travel on the roads rather than by train, the UK roads have been busier than ever and wait times on the UK’s major transport links have been unforgivably long.

Delays in getting workers to site is having a domino effect and significant projects such as High Speed 2 (HS2) are being threatened with huge financial risk. A HS2 spokesperson discussed the impacts of the strikes with Construction News; claiming that contingency plans are having to be forced into place in order to get people and materials to site (Construction news).

With HGV drivers relying on the UK’s roads to supply the country with essential goods, delays are having a colossal impact on the industry’s ability to function. The number of daily deliveries that can be completed by 

drivers are being significantly decreased and with a lack of goods reaching depots and factories across the UK; petrol stations, supermarkets and other marketplaces are being left at risk.

Although contingency plans allow construction companies to prepare for the further impacts of the strikes which are yet to come, Maggie Simpson, head of the Rail Freight Group, suggested that regardless of the measures, the strikes will place “extra risk into already fragile supply chains” (Financial Times). This comes as Britain’s fundamental supply chains risk reaching a chaos, with the rail strikes expected to continue over the coming months of 2022.

Is Britain heading for a summer of strikes?

With over 40,000 rail staff continuing to strike in the fight for better pay (Reuters), union leaders have warned that we should expect industrial action to echo across into other industries in the summer of 2022, should the government fail to raise pay rates.

This comes as ministers prepare to announce disappointing below-inflation pay deals for those working in the education and medical industry (Financial Times), and British Airways reveal that over 700 check-in crew at London’s Heathrow airport would strike over the summer of 2022.

In terms of rail strikes, we should expect more to come. The RMT union has been given a six-month mandate period which runs from May to the end of November 2022 which means any further industrial action must be completed within this time.

To avoid further damage to the UK’s supply chain, the government would need to come to an agreement with rail companies on pay and pension cuts, or else face a renewal of the mandate for years to come.

London underground platform with train moving nearby