ESSEX rail staff have voted for strike actions in a bitter dispute over pay, conditions and safety, threatening massive disruption to the network in the coming weeks.

Greater Anglia and c2c staff, working with the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, have joined staff at Network Rail and 13 other train operators across the country in launching a campaign of industrial action.

The Government and rail industry criticised the move, calling it “hugely disappointing and premature”, and warning the action could affect the rail industry’s recovery from the damage caused by coronavirus.

The union’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which would bring huge parts of the network to a standstill.

Bosses at Greater Anglia and c2c have pledged to prepare contingency plans to reduce impact on customers.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Today’s overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union’s approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.

“Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT.”

The union said it was the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation in the 1990s.

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director said: “We are working on a number of contingency options with the aim of providing our customers with the best possible service depending on the circumstances.”

Rob Mullen, c2c managing director, added: "The industry and the wider nation is going through uncertain times and we appreciate that means colleagues feel real unease and want some certainty going forward.

"We will be engaging with the RMT with the hope that colleagues and our customers see the least possible impact."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is hugely disappointing and premature that the RMT is calling for industrial action before even entering discussions.

“The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25 per cent down, and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs.”