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Britain faces rail strikes again

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LONDON: Britain faced another week of disrupted travel from rail strikes from Tuesday, in a failure for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new strikes law that was intended to curb disruption to public services during industrial action.

The Strikes Act empowers employers in certain sectors to require workers to maintain minimum levels of service on strike days so disruption to essential services like ambulances and trains is minimised.

But Britain’s train operators have decided not to implement minimum service levels (MSLs) – set at 40% of the normal timetable for rail services – for this week’s strikes, called by trade union ASLEF.

“Minimum Service Level legislation is one of many useful tools for managing strike disruption, but it is not a silver bullet,” a spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the industry, said.

Train operators need to “make careful assessments of their own particular operational circumstances” in order to ensure the best services possible for passengers during industrial action, the spokesperson added.

For many Britons, experiencing disruption to rail travel has become the new normal over the past two years, as industrial disputes drag on despite progress being made on pay deals in other professions with labour unrest, like teaching and nursing.

A spokesperson for Sunak told reporters on Tuesday that rail companies should be ready to use the legislation to minimise the impact of strikes on passengers.

“We are always open to looking at how we can strengthen the rules around MSLs to ensure it delivers for the best interests of passengers,” the spokesperson added.

Sunak’s government, under pressure to tackle the problem ahead of an election expected later in 2024, enacted the strikes law last year, promising passengers “certainty that they will be able to make important journeys on a strike day.”

But one train operator, LNER, backed down from enforcing MSLs for a walkout earlier this month after being threatened with five extra days of strike action by ASLEF, the BBC reported.

“The government’s own impact assessment said that minimum service levels would inevitably lead to more strikes,” ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan told Times Radio on Tuesday. Reuters

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