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Unions target Branson as rail strike begins

There are a total of six strikes planned in this dispute

By James Sillars, Business Reporter

The country's largest transport unions have taken aim at Sir Richard Branson's wealth while staging the first in a series of planned Virgin Trains West Coast strikes.

Members of the RMT and TSSA unions are walking out for 24-hours in a dispute over pay and staffing.

There are five further stoppages planned – with action on Friday 22 December threatening Christmas travel plans.

Virgin said it was expecting to run a majority of services as planned today – with trains between Glasgow and London and London and Liverpool running as normal.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Sir Richard Branson participates in a SiriusXM 'Town Hall' Event hosted by Dan Rather on October 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Sir Richard Branson

However, there will be no trains to Edinburgh while Chester and North Wales also face a hit to normal timetables.

Phil Whittingham, managing director for Virgin Trains on the west coast, said: "The RMT leadership is attempting to cause disruption when many will want to travel by train to spend time with loved ones.

"We have explored a generous 3.6% pay increase, however the unions' leaderships are insisting on 4%, double the 2% average increase seen across the UK this year.

"We know how important it is for friends and families to get together over the festive season, so whilst we're sorry for the disruption we will keep the majority of our trains running with fully-trained staff onboard and at stations.

"We remain open to talks with the RMT and TSSA, and urge them to call off these strikes which will cost their members pay for no gain."

Both unions targeted Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson's Caribbean island retreat, Necker – recently devastated by Hurricane Irma – while insisting the company award equal pay rises to drivers.

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Sam Branson calls for hurricane aid

Its leader, Manuel Cortes, apologised for disruption to passengers adding: "We're obviously happy for the drivers that they have had a decent settlement, but our members believe that they too should deserve a little more than a stand
still inflation pay rise.

"Passengers and staff are keeping Richard Branson up to his Necker Island in luxury, while they pay more for fares and work harder for less."

His counterpart at the RMT, Mick Cash, said: "All our members are demanding is a suitable and equal offer to that given to drivers to buy out their claim for a reduction in the base working week.

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"We have made it clear to the company that the inequality and underhanded approach of Virgin will be fought tooth and nail.

"The message needs to get through to Sir Richard Branson on his luxury island retreat in the sunshine that those who are financing his lifestyle through their hard graft have had enough and are prepared to fight for justice in their

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