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PM to hold cabinet crisis talks after rail union adds more Christmas strikes

Rishi Sunak will speak to his cabinet about rail strikes today after a union announced days of extra strikes over Christmas in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

On Monday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) confirmed it would go ahead with two 48-hour strikes next week and will also walk out from 6pm on 24 December until 6am on 27 December.

Strikes affecting 14 train companies will go ahead next week, although talks will continue with the Rail Delivery Group today.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said it was unfortunate that the union had been “compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers”.

He said: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members.”

The additional Christmas strikes are intended to target engineering work as no services run on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, Mr Lynch told the BBC.

He conceded that there will be disruption on Christmas Eve, saying that the “wind down” will happen earlier than usual.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told the RMT rail union not to “hold the country to ransom” as they prepare strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

The rail dispute is one of many threatening to deliver a winter of discontent as unions seek pay rises in line with the rate of inflation to help shield their members from the cost of living crisis.

There is the looming threat of action by nurses, firefighters and National Highways staff.

It is building on a wave of strikes among other professions, including teachers and bus drivers.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “I don’t want to see industrial action because I see workers losing their pay and I see the public inconvenience.”

She added: “I want to see our trains running on time and the work is being paid fairly and decently, and I think that there is a deal to be done to get there.”

Asked what she thought of Labour politicians being on the picket line, she said: “I don’t have a problem with [it].”

Earlier in the year, Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News “you can’t sit around the cabinet table and then go to a picket line”.

Later today, the GMB union is expected to announce the dates of ambulance worker strike action after members backed walkouts across nine trusts in England and Wales.

Over the weekend, the government confirmed that hundreds of troops are on stand-by to cover for ambulance crews, firefighters and Border Force staff as ministers prepare for a wave of strikes across public services before Christmas.

The Cabinet Office said that about 2,000 military personnel, civil servants and other volunteers from across government have been training as part of the government’s contingency planning.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi said it was the “right and responsible thing to do” as ministers sought to minimise the disruption to the public.

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