Later this month a slew of rail strikes are set to result in what could wind up as the largest outbreak of industrial action in Britain since 1989.

Unions say their actions, which they claim are a response to pay freezes while inflation soars, could lead to a near shutdown of England’s railways for three days.

The strike will take place during a series of major events including the Glastonbury music festival, the Headingley Third test and GCSE exams.

Talks between unions and train operator Network Rail are scheduled, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) claim to be open to “meaningful negotiations”.

However, as the likelihood of the action going ahead remains high we take a look at what it might involve.

When will the strikes happen and who will strike?

  • Tuesday 21 June

Up to 50,000 workers across Network Rail and TfL are set to strike.

  • Thursday 23 June and Saturday 25 June

40,000 railway workers, though not those on the London Underground, will strike.

Disruption will likely ensue across the whole week due to the knock-on impact of staff walkouts.

Unite say 1,000 of its members across London, including on the underground network, will strike over pay and suggestions pensions could be cut.

TfL maintains that no plans have been confirmed, no decisions or proposals have been made.

Members of the RMT and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef) will also be striking.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) are currently balloting hundreds of Avanti West Coast staff over a further strike that could happen as early as 13 July. The union’s general secretary Manuel Cortes told Sky News that “a summer of discontent” could take place across Britain’s railways.

Between November 1978 and February 1979 the UK’s “winter of discontent”—a phrase lifted from Shakespeare’s Richard III—was characterised by widespread strikes as the government refused to succumb to unions’ demands for pay rises greater than the limits James Callaghan had imposed to keep inflation in check.

Why are rail workers striking?

While many UK employers have raised wages in response to spiralling staff shortages and inflation hikes, this is not the case across the rail sector.

RMT secretary general Mike Lynch has apologised for disruption but has defended the strikes and their timing, telling ITV One’s Good Morning Britain programme: “We don’t follow the comings and goings of Glastonbury or pop concerts. There is never a good time for a railway dispute. I want the economy to be sound. But we can’t passively sit around while our members become poorer and are under the threat of losing their jobs”.

“We haven’t got a pay deal in three years while inflation is rampant. And our members have had enough,” he went on.

Union also warn that 2,500 maintenance roles on the railways could soon be axed

Labour’s shadow levelling secretary Lisa Nandy has said that while her party “are with the public”, they support rail workers’ right to strike. “They’re dealing with the same pressures that everyone else is – the cost of food, the cost of soaring inflation rates, taxes going up, and they’re really struggling to make ends meet,” she explained to ITV.

What concerns are there?

The Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Simon Clarke, said Nandy’s stance was “hopeless” and that the strike “is going to cause utter misery for the country. It isn’t justified – it is vital for the rail industry (rescued by the taxpayer during the pandemic) that it is sustainable. We all want it to succeed.

Yesterday, health secretary Sajid Javid blasted union leaders for not “acting like adults” telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “When it comes to these strikes, it is very disappointing what the unions have said because it’s not just going to cause misery for the travellers, but it’s actually, I think, the wrong outcome for the workers as well.

“Because anyone working in this industry, any industry for that matter, you want it to be sustainable for the long term. It’s not possible to keep giving it the same level of support it got during the pandemic.”

Javid also refused to rule out future legislation to disincentivise strikes, saying that the transport secretary would “be looking at all options.”

In a speech in Blackpool earlier today, Boris Johnson did nor refer to rail strikes directly, but said the “time has come” to replace inefficient train ticket offices with automated systems in order to cut railway costs.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman who chairs the House of Commons transport committee has urged a minimum service commitment during strikes. In EU member states these rules mandate that approximately one-third of trains run even while industrial action is ongoing.

There are concerns that extensive striking could impact rail freight, and Tesco and Puma Energy have complained they could cause petrol shortages alongside other supply chain issues.

It has even been suggested that lights could go out in some areas due to delayed fuel deliveries.

Even the UK’s largest power station, Drax in North Yorkshire, is only able to stockpile 2 to 3 days worth of supplies.

How much do rail workers earn?

Much discussion around the forthcoming strikes has revolved around train drivers, but all rail workers will be involved in the walkouts.

Trainee salaries for train drivers begin at £24,000 a year and peak at around £60,000 for experienced drivers. They work around 35 to 40 hours a week.

Train conductors can earn around £23,000 to £36,000, and generally work 43 to 45 hour weeks

Train station employees earn between £17,500 and £27,000.

Rail track maintenance workers generally take home between £16,500 and £34,000 a year, often working more than 45 hours a week.

According to HMRC the average UK salary across all professions at the beginning of 2022 was £24,600. The average full-time salary was £31,285 in 2021.

But whether you are a train driver, a station worker or just a commuter, the planned strikes are certain to change the shape of your week should they go ahead.

Whether or not the rail unions receive their current demands, with inflation climbing and wages stagnating, this particular dispute is unlikely to be the last.