UK rail workers Tuesday launched their first day of strike action over disputes between workers and companies on pay, jobs and working conditions. The strike action is expected to affect 14 train operators from Tuesday through Friday, reducing rail travel to 20 percent of regular services.The National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) announced the strike action Monday. According to RMT, close to 40,000 rail workers will strike this week against 14 train operating companies. The action is expected to shut down “most rail services across the country.” Another rail union, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), is also expected to stage a one-day strike action on Thursday.RMT claims that government ministers are responsible for blocking the unions’ efforts to negotiate on pay, job security and working conditions. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch spoke to BBC Breakfast Tuesday and apologized for the effect the strike is having on UK commuters. ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said, “We don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place.” Lynch said, “All the parties involved know what needs to be done to get a settlement. But the government is blocking that settlement and doing nothing about this dispute.”Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper, however, claimed that he had offered a new and improved pay and reform offers. Harper said that two rail unions already accepted the offer while RMT refused. Harper called for workers to “get off the picket line and back round the table” to negotiate a “fair” deal.The rail strike comes in the midst of several other sector strikes in the UK, a country which faced serious economic downturn months ago during a shake up in UK leadership. On December 15, UK nurses went on strike for the first time in UK history over stagnant pay. On September 5, UK criminal barristers began an indefinite strike–which was resolved in October–in an effort to increase legal aid funding from the government. On October 24, UK university and college union members voted in favor of a strike because of pay disputes and pension cuts.RMT said the union, companies and the government attempted to resolve the issue during the Christmas period but were unable to arrange any formal negotiations to resolve the dispute. Union representatives are expected to meet with government officials and heads of rail companies early next week.

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