Downing Street has accused rail unions of targeting ‘displaced Ukrainians trying to attend Eurovision’ after strikes which will also impact the FA Cup Final and Epsom Derby were announced.
No10 waded in last night amid mounting fury across the country at the move by Aslef and the RMT, which is set to hit hundreds of thousands of sport and music fans.
Among those affected will be Ukrainian refugees, who have been handed subsidised tickets to Eurovision after the Russian invasion of their home country meant the event was moved to Liverpool.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing that Aslef has taken this action. By choosing these specific dates, they are looking to disrupt the FA Cup Final, thousands of people will be affected.
‘That will include displaced Ukrainians trying to attend Eurovision, I know there is a distinct possibility.’
Rail unions have sparked fury by targeting the FA Cup Final, Epsom Derby and Eurovision for strike action. [File image]
Bosses at Aslef and the RMT were branded ‘disgusting’ for calling walkouts that will hit hundreds of thousands of sport and music fans. [File image]
Wembley Stadium will play host to the FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Manchester United on Saturday, 3 June, as fans could be affected by upcoming train strikes
Pupils sitting their GCSEs could also face disruption because the industrial action coincides with exam season.
Hospitality chiefs warned the walkouts would be a fresh hammer blow to an industry that has already lost £3billion to rail strikes.
Aslef, which represents train drivers, announced strikes on May 12, May 31 and June 3 – when Manchester City and Manchester United meet at Wembley.
To add insult to injury, the RMT said its members would strike on May 13 – the day of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. In other developments:
- A nursing strike planned for this bank holiday weekend will be reduced from 48 hours to one day after a High Court judge ruled the full walkout would be against the law;
- Striking physiotherapists joined midwives and other health workers by voting in favour of a government pay offer;
- But GPs threatened to strike over proposed contract changes;
- GCSE pupils were forced to study alone at home during another wave of school strikes yesterday.
Tens of thousands of fans of the two Manchester football clubs are expected to make the journey from the North West to Wembley, with many others travelling to London from around the country to be close to the action.
The Football Association confirmed only on Wednesday that the kick-off would be at the traditional time of 3pm for the first time in 12 years to allow fans more time to get home.
But the rail walkout has thrown their plans into chaos, with roads leading to the capital likely to become gridlocked. Both clubs are assessing the situation and are liaising with the FA.
Hospitality chiefs warned the walkouts would be a fresh hammer blow to an industry that has already lost £3billion to rail strikes
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said: ‘A train strike on Cup Final day will be a huge inconvenience to the tens of thousands of supporters travelling down from Manchester to London on the day.
‘We need all modes of transport available to cope with the level of demand and the railways are a key part of that. We call on the Government and the trade union to get round the table.’
June 3 is also the date of the Epsom Derby and up to 80,000 fans are expected to descend on the Surrey racecourse, which many usually reach by train.
The May 12 and 13 strikes will hit concert-goers attending the second semi-final and final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. They take place on May 11 and 13 respectively. Ukraine won last year but cannot host because of the Russian invasion and Britain has stepped in. It will be the first time the UK has hosted the event for 25 years.
The Government has arranged for displaced people from the war-torn country involved in the Homes for Ukraine, Ukraine Extension and Ukraine Family schemes to receive subsidised tickets.
Mick Whelan of Aslef dismissed a ‘risible’ 4 per cent pay offer from 15 train firms despite the average locomotive driver already being on £60,000 for a four-day week. The union also rejected reforms aimed at making services more efficient.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesman told the Telegraph that the latest proposed pay offer is ‘fair and reasonable’.
Mick Lynch of the RMT said it had ‘no alternative’ but to reject a 9 per cent pay rise over two years.
Barely any mainline trains will run on most of the strike dates. Aslef is also cancelling overtime working from May 15 to 20, as well as on May 13 and June 1. This will further disrupt services.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘It is deeply disappointing that Aslef has decided to call strikes and ban overtime, targeting thousands of people attending the UK’s first Eurovision event in 25 years – including Ukrainians displaced by Putin’s war – and the first ever all-Manchester FA Cup final.
Pupils sitting their GCSEs could also face disruption because the industrial action coincides with exam season. [File image]
‘The fair and reasonable offer from the [train firms] included urgent reform to ensure our railways are financially sustainable for the benefit of passengers, rail workers and the taxpayer as well as delivering a pay rise. Aslef needs to call off these strikes and give their members a say on this offer.’
Tory MP Greg Smith, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘The millions of people who haven’t had any sort of pay rise at all or a modest one will look on in disbelief and be disgusted at the strike action.’
There was hope the strikes could soon be over after a long-running dispute between the RMT and Network Rail was resolved last month when workers accepted 9 per cent over two years.
But a separate dispute between more than a dozen rail firms and the RMT and Aslef is unresolved. Since last June the RMT has staged 18 walkouts and Aslef eight.
Mr Whelan said his executive committee had rejected an offer of 4 per cent that ‘was clearly not designed to be accepted as inflation is still running north of 10 per cent’. Mr Lynch said rail chiefs had ‘reneged on their original proposals and torpedoed these negotiations’.
Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality said: ‘Hospitality businesses across the country have lost more than £3billion in lost sales as a result of the strikes and there is no doubt that will increase as a result of the announcement, particularly as it will now impact the busy, high-demand summer period.
‘I would urge all parties to redouble their efforts in negotiations.’
Aslef has been contacted for comment.
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