Unions have been warned they are making a “big mistake” by opting for strike action next week that threatens to bring the country to a halt.
The RMT union confirmed that the strikes will continue next week on June 21, 23 and 25 in what has been called the largest industrial strike in a generation.
Among those who will be affected by the strikes are students taking exams and people traveling to summer events, including the Glastonbury festival.
The unions have accused Westminster of “fueling tensions” and threatening to cut workers’ jobs and pay through plans to “modernize” the railway.
But transport secretary Grant Shapps accused unions this morning of “chasing this strike all the time” as both sides blamed each other for failing to reach an agreement.
Shapps told Sky News: “It’s a big mistake.
“The unions have been chasing this strike all along. There is absolutely no need for this strike.”
With 13 operators and around 50,000 members of the RMT union expected to leave, next week’s action has been described as the “largest outbreak of industrial action in the UK since 1989”.
A key demand from railway workers is that their wages be raised to levels that can keep pace with the rise in the cost of living – although RMT Secretary General Mick Lynch has denied that the union is aiming for an 11% increase in the cost of living. inflation forecasts of 11. †
Each strike lasts 24 hours. However, train operators have warned that domino effects result in a six-day block, in effect.
Shapps warned that the move will “hamper millions of people — students doing their GCSEs and A levels, people trying to get to hospitals to get surgeries that may have been delayed amid the coronavirus”.
“It’s disastrous,” he continued.
“It’s no way to behave on the track. There is no advantage to this. I know Mick Lynch says he’s ‘nostalgic for union power’, but this is no way to behave.”
Lynch immediately hit back at the government, accusing it of creating a “crisis” for its members.
He told Sky News: “We don’t want to be the cause of disruption in people’s lives.
“We want a solution to this dispute, but we are facing a crisis for our members – we are facing thousands of job losses.
“Despite what Grant Shapps says, there is no guarantee that these layoffs will not be mandatory.
‘We have already seen four or five thousand jobs disappear from the railways. They have told our maintenance staff at Network Rail that 3,000 jobs will be lost. They are going to cut back on the security regime. They have told us that every booking agency in the UK will be closing. They have told us that they are going to extend the work week from 35 hours to 40 or possibly 44 hours.
“For newcomers, that means lower wages. So they are actually proposing pay cuts, not a pay rise and an increase in working hours on the track.”
Lynch also said some train companies have not invited workers to talks or made wage offers ahead of strikes, after Shapps accused the RMT of leaving negotiations to attend a union meeting.
“Train operators made no offer at all during these talks, there are two lines of discussion.
“Network Rail has a part, which is about half of the people and the train operators.
“The train operators suspended the meeting on Thursday, they did not invite us to any meeting and they did not offer any wages.
“We are looking for a pay increase that reflects the cost of living.”
Meanwhile, Labor’s shadow leveling secretary Lisa Nandy urged the government to “sit around the table… to sort this out”.
She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I’m with the people who are building and creating and running this country, whether they’re working on the railroads or they’re trying to use the railroads to get to work.
“Just a few years ago Grant Shapps called them real heroes, now he refuses to meet them. The government has not lifted a finger to engage in those talks since March.
“During the pandemic they have taken over the right to negotiate back from train operators, so they are the only people who can solve this and yet they are not prepared to do so.
The biggest problem this country has is not militant workers, it’s a militant government.”