Here’s what Cardiff students think about the Christmas rail strikes

One student said it was ‘sickening and worrying’

You could say the vast majority of the British public are sick to the back teeth of the railway strikes that have plagued the nation for the past six months. Your vulnerable nan in Yorkshire who you haven’t been able to see since COVID struck is so excited to see you after so long; the concert which you fought for your life for in the Ticketmaster queue is scheduled to come up; and your application has been approved for your dream job so you’ve been invited to a formal interview down in London. Then the bombshell hits. There won’t be any trains running in Cardiff.

What happens now? Well, your nan will have to make do with a phone call. You’ll have to make do with listening to Drake on Spotify, or in PRYZM main room, and you can either throw the all-important interview back into your dream employer’s face, or splash out a couple of hundred pounds on a hotel if trains are running the day before. What else can be done, really? Realistically, not much else.

It was recently announced that railway services in Cathays and Cardiff are expected to be severely reduced yet again over December 13th-17th, 24th-27th, and January 3rd-7th. We’ve just about survived the first, but make a note of the latter, or you could be caught out. Especially as this is a key time for students travelling to or from home for the Christmas holidays. It’s an enormous pain in the backside, but a part of life; all industries strike now and then. But now, with the revelation that the RMT union plan to grind Britain to a screeching halt yet again, but this time, putting plans for Christmas in jeopardy: we asked Cardiff students, is enough, enough?

The above dates aren’t the only times when trains will be off-track. Something many people may not know is that many train companies really on “rest-day working,” and though we haven’t really noticed much fuss about it until recently, the RMT have conveniently chosen now to pull the plug on this. This is an “overtime ban,” and where this appears to sneakily catch many people out is: it often isn’t publicly advertised as “industrial action,” even though it means hardly any trains will run. This means a limited service on almost every day this month, confusing passengers who expect this only for advertised strike days.

Critically, with the semester coming to its conclusion around this time, this is the time at which Cardiff students start to migrate back home for the festive period so that they may spend Christmas at home with their families. These 48-hour long strikes, however, which come not long after a series of strikes from the ASLEF railway union, will mean the vast majority of railway services will be suspended. And with the railway unions appearing to fiercely insist on dramatic pay increases, despite the country’s poor financial state, it’d be far from unreasonable to suggest that targeting the festive season is a tactical way of causing as much chaos as possible. Tearing families’ Christmas plans apart would certainly make people sit up and take notice. But is this sneaky strategy a successful solution, or simply sick?

The impact on people’s lives runs deeper than just mild inconvenience, here’s how it has deeply impacted Cardiff students:

Sangkari Nathan, from Malaysia, must fly from London to return to her family for Christmas. Long-haul flight dates cannot simply be changed at the drop of a hat. The impending strike action, which she describes as “sickening and worrying” will severely restrict her from getting to London. Therefore, if she wants to celebrate with her loved ones at Christmas, Sangkari must rely on a taxi or airport hotel; at this time of year, this will not come cheap. It’s not up for negotiation though, unless she wants a lonely Christmas in Cathays.

“Somehow, strikes manage to cost students more money,” were the thoughts of optometry student, Zoe, and she may be right. Train tickets already booked for strikes dates are usually changeable or refundable (and so they should be), but how far does this go to avoid students being out of pocket? Hotel bookings, event tickets, flights, Winter Wonderland passes and many other costs cannot be refunded even if the tickets for the impaired train services can.

The railway unions ASLEF (representing drivers) and RMT (representing most other grades) are conducting a strike partially resulting from a lack of substantial pay rise over the last three years. But some students have condemned the lack of consideration for commuters, such as psychology student Jake, who works as a clerk in Llanishen alongside his studies. Those who commute are reliant on the railway to be able to receive their basic wage, let alone extras. Offers for pay-rises have reportedly been made, but have either fallen through or been allegedly condemned as insufficient, and therefore refused.

Had we not just come out of a global pandemic, it may have been understandable why some are so angry about pay. Had we not been suffering from a national economic crisis, it may have been acceptable to withdraw labour until substantial increases had been yielded. However, as these circumstances are the reality, the question is, is it realistic to expect this, and is it fair to cause others major distress, disruption and financial penalty when told nothing can be done at present?

It comes as little surprise that many Cardiff students now condemn the strikes. Karl, a Chemistry second-year, described feeling “very frustrated,” claiming that it’s ironic that the strike is largely over pay, when the cancelled services will mean he must cancel several shifts and therefore cause him to lose pay. International relations student Jen took a more understanding approach, saying that “strikes are meant to be disruptive or they’ll have no impact,” but admitted it put many students in a difficult position.

Much as it would have been great to hear views of students in favour of the strikes, but we struggled to find any that were. Kai, Media and Culture student, declared that preventing families being together for Christmas in the hope of a rise is “nothing short of greedy, selfish, and evil.” If that is what is being done, of course. One cannot declare for certain that the strikes have been conducted to deliberately tear apart the yuletide season, but with unions seemingly desperate to prove to the Department for Transport that they’re not backing down, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility.

Transport for Wales is one of a very few train operating companies not directly involved, but Network Rail staff have been striking, and as they directly oversee the infrastructure of the routes surrounding Cardiff, even Transport for Wales cannot run a full service on these strike dates. Great Western Railway and CrossCountry also serve Cardiff, and are expected to have very limited or no service on most routes due to the striking of their staff. Critical dates for Christmas travel, including December 24th, and several “in-between days” in the run up to New Year, were recently added to the pile of strike dates. Therefore, expect Christmas chaos all round.

The railway is run primarily for passengers, but at the moment, when those passengers can use it is being strongly dictated by the staff unions. And until those unions can come to an amicable agreement with the Department for Transport over pay, job cuts and terms and conditions, it doesn’t look like the passengers will get much of a look in any time soon. After your lecture is over, I’d recommend looking at coach ticket prices.

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