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UK faces travel chaos as unions warn strikes could continue “indefinitely’

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The UK’s rail network is once again in complete chaos due to fresh strikes that began Thursday, with union bosses warning the dispute could continue “indefinitely” unless their demands are met.

Thousands of workers across the UK kicked off a four-day strike due to long-running disputes over working conditions and unfair pay.

Commuters across the country, including the capital London, have been advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

Workers taking part in the industrial action are largely from Network Rail, Transport for London, London Buses and other transport services and are members of a number of unions.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, accused the government of pursuing a “deliberate policy of prolonging rail disputes for political reasons.”

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, he said the government was using “taxpayers’ money to bail out private train companies,” having doled out over £120 million ($143 million) so far, according to the union’s calculation.

“Using taxpayers’ money to satisfy the anti-union agenda of the Tory party and seek to break the trade unions is shameful and means the dispute will be prolonged indefinitely as the train companies don’t lose a penny as a result of the industrial action and therefore have no incentive to settle the disputes,” said Lynch.

“At the moment, the only way we’ve ever achieved anything as a union is by the withdrawal of our labor. That’s the only way that a working person has any strength is by collective bargaining and collective use of our ability to withdraw our labor,” said Chris Mortimer, the RMT union representative for Kings Cross.

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“We don’t have the big money that comes due. And the only thing we have as individuals is the right to say we will not work under these conditions. The right to withdraw labor is from fundamental parts of being a member of the union,” he added.

NORTH LONDON: Tube trains stand at Northfields Train Depot as train strikes hit services again

Earlier, the RMT head said Network Rail had “not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train operating companies have not offered us anything new.”

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He said officials were holding “secret negotiations with the government about cutting costs by slashing jobs and undermining working conditions and pensions.”

“Network Rail is also threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work if we did not withdraw strike action. The train operating companies have put driver-only operations on the table along with ransacking our members’ terms and conditions,” he added.

In addition to Thursday’s industrial action, members of the RMT and Unite unions will walk out of London Underground tube stations and bus depots Friday in a separate dispute over pay.

On Saturday, railway workers including train drivers, conductors and platform staff, alongside members from the London United bus routes, will stage a walkout that will further disrupt travel plans for many on the weekend.

Shapps has condemned the mass industrial action and blamed its participants for causing unnecessary disruptions to millions of commuters who rely on transport services to go to work and visit family and friends.

“It’s clear, from their coordinated approach that the unions are hell-bent on causing as much misery as possible to the very same taxpayers who stumped up £600 ($716) per household to ensure not a single rail worker lost their job during the (coronavirus) pandemic,” he said.

“Sadly, union chiefs have short memories and will be repaying this act of good faith by ruining millions of hard-working people’s summer plans. Businesses too will suffer, with the capital’s leisure and tourism sectors, which have been banking on that summer trade, set to lose millions – a particularly cruel blow, given how hard many worked to stay afloat during successive summers of lockdown,” he added.

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Unions leading the mass strike, however, argue that their workers are being severely affected by the cost-of-living crisis, with inflation reaching a 40-year high of 10% and real wages seeing a sharp drop.

SEE ALSO:  South Africa's top court bars Jacob Zuma from standing in election

In June, a mass walkout by members of the RMT union caused one of the UK’s largest rail strikes in 30 years. (Anadolu Agency)

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International

UK Foreign Workers, Students decline by 30%

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The number of foreign workers and students moving to the United Kingdom has plummeted by nearly 30 per cent this year, according to new figures released by the Home Office.

The drop, from 121,000 to 85,200 in the first five months of 2024, aligns with both the Conservative and Labour Parties’ promises to reduce net migration.

This is the most significant decrease since the pandemic, with skilled workers, students, and health and care visa holders constituting the majority of migration to the UK. Last year, the three categories, along with their dependants, collectively received 1.13 million visas.

The figures indicated a significant drop in visa applications across various categories, including a 25.4 per cent overall decrease in visas for foreign workers, students, and their dependants.

The number of dependants brought in by students fell by nearly 80 per cent, while health and care worker visa applications decreased by 75.6 per cent.

The Telegraph of UK reports that the decline was largely attributed to measures implemented by the government, including restrictions on foreign workers and students bringing dependants, increased salary thresholds for skilled workers, and curbs on the shortage of occupation visa schemes.

According to the data, net migration stands at 685,000 for the year ending December 2023, down from a record high of 764,000 in the previous year.

The Conservative government’s objective was to decrease immigration by 300,000, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledging to “halve” migration and continue decreasing it annually if his party is re-elected.

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Labour’s manifesto also pledged to reduce net migration, although the party has not specified a target or timeline. The party proposed to link training to immigration, requiring sectors applying for foreign worker visas to first train British citizens.

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Home Secretary James Cleverly took to his X handle to attribute the decline to his actions, stating, “I took action to drive down legal migration.

“Data released this week show visa applications have dropped 30 percent amongst key routes. Labour opposed these actions at every opportunity. If you want to reduce migration, vote Conservative on 4th July.”

The Migration Advisory Committee chairman, Prof Brian Bell, said the Prime Minister has a “fighting chance” of reducing net migration to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year.

This development comes ahead of the July 4 election, with immigration policy playing a crucial role in the campaigns of both major political parties.

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International

UK court jails man for removing condom without lady’s consent

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The convict, Guy Mukendi

A United Kingdom, UK court on Thursday jailed a man for removing without consent a condom that he was wearing during sex, in what London’s Metropolitan Police called a “milestone” legal case.

Guy Mukendi, 39, of South London, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after being convicted in April, the London force said.

He had been arrested in May last year following a report of sexual assault made by a young woman in Brixton, south London.

The Met, as the capital’s police force is known, said the woman had consented to have sex with Mukendi on condition that a condom was used.

But during sex, he removed the condom without the victim’s knowledge.

Non-consensual condom removal — sometimes referred to as “stealthing” — is classified as rape in England and Wales.

The Met said such prosecutions are “very rare” due to under-reporting but that they are dedicated to pursuing “justice” for victims.

“This milestone case comes as the Met continues its pledge to be more suspect-focused in their approach to crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls,” the force said in a statement detailing the prosecution.

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Mukendi was found guilty on April 2 at Inner London Crown Court and was sentenced at the same court on Thursday.

“Throughout this investigation, Mukendi denied any wrongdoing — but our officers built a compelling case against him to leave no doubt in the jury’s mind,” said Detective Constable Jack Earl, who led the investigation.

“We were dedicated to securing justice for the victim and will continue to raise awareness that this crime is a form of rape.”

SEE ALSO:  South Africa's top court bars Jacob Zuma from standing in election

AFP

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Wreckage of missing Malawi VP’s plane found with no survivor ⁠- Military

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Malawi's Vice President, Saulos Chilima,

Malawian searchers have found the wreckage of a plane that was carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima, a military source said Tuesday, a day after the aircraft went missing in bad weather.

The military plane carrying Chilima, 51, and nine others disappeared on Monday after it failed to land in the northern city of Mzuzu due to poor visibility and was told to return to the capital, Lilongwe and there was no survivor in the wreckage.

Photographs shared with AFP by a member of the military rescue team showed army personnel standing on a foggy slope near debris bearing the registration number of the Malawi Army Air Wing Dornier 228-202K aircraft.

President Lazarus Chakwera was due to address the nation. It was not immediately clear if there were any survivors.

Rescuers had been combing a fog-cloaked forest south of Mzuzu on Tuesday, after authorities located the last tower it transmitted to before the plane disappeared.

Earlier, army commander General Paul Valentino Phiri said other countries, including Malawi’s neighbours, had been aiding the search effort, with support including helicopters and drones.

The group departed just after 9:00 am (0700 GMT) from Lilongwe on Monday to attend the funeral of a former cabinet minister some 370 kilometres (230 miles) away in Mzuzu.

Malawi’s former first lady Shanil Dzimbiri was also on board.

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First elected vice president in 2014, the charismatic yet stern-talking Chilima is a widely loved figure in Malawi, particularly among young people.

But in 2022, during his second stint in the job, Chilima was stripped of his powers after being arrested and charged with graft over a bribery scandal involving a British-Malawian businessman.

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Last month, a Malawian court dropped the charges and he resumed his official duties.

AFP

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