The RMT union has said that the planned major railway strikes will go ahead after late talks addressing pay, job security and working conditions fail to yield a breakthrough on Monday.
The union’s secretary general Mick Lynch thanked the public for their “tremendous support” of rail workers and hit out at the government for preventing the situation from being salvaged.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that the strikes were “completely unnecessary” and insisted that negotiations should be between union and rail bosses.
Workers will strike over Tuesday 21 June, Thursday 23 June and Saturday 25 June. Roughly 40,000 RMT members working on the railways in maintenance, signalling roles and as station staff will be participating starting from 00:01 BST on Tuesday, while 10,000 RMT London Underground workers will separately strike on the same day.
The strike days will see the rail network effectively shut down across Great Britain and passengers have been advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
Even on non-strike days, emergency timetables will be in place, meaning disruption is likely to span the entire week.
While Lynch called on the government to allow employers to “negotiate freely” with unions, the transport secretary blamed RMT for being “determined to go on strike” no matter what offer was put before them.
Shapps suggested that RMT members had been misled over future pay rises in order to pave the way for industrial action to happen and insisted that “only employers have the ability to be able to negotiate what are complex and detailed areas of reform” and “give a pay rise in return for modernising the railway”.
The transport secretary added that any minister going into negotiations would have hindered the talks rather than helped steer them towards a solution.
Lynch meanwhile has blamed the government’s decision to “slash £4 billion of funding from our railway network” as the driving force behind the mass walkout and accused ministers of falsely claiming that RMT had walked out of negotiations.
He said: “What we've come to understand is the dead hand of this government is all over this dispute. Until they allow these employers to negotiate freely I can't see we're going to get a resolution.
“They've cut £2 billion from the National Railway and they've cut £2 billion from Transport for London. That is hobbling this industry, and it's forcing the companies to implement transport austerity and massive cuts to our system as we speak.”
Lynch added that proposals by rail bosses fell “massively under the relevant rates of inflation coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years” and that there were plans to offload thousands of jobs, reduce pensions and salaries, and close every ticket office at train stations in Great Britain.
“At the behest of the government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies.”
Network Rail has said that it wants to modernise the railway network and is actively exploring automation in some maintenance roles, which could see between 1,500 and 2,000 staff made redundant.
Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, said that industry leaders had been locked in talks with unions to address how the industry could modernise and reform with passenger numbers having fallen significantly since the pandemic.
He said: “Ultimately, we do want to give our people a pay increase... but we have to get on with reform, and that helps us deliver the next phase of giving people a pay rise.”
In the background, the government is preparing to take legislation to Parliament which will allow employers to replace striking workers with agency staff.
The law could come into force as early as mid-July but has come under fire from the Trades Union Congress over safety concerns and its undermining of workers’ rights to strike.
Meanwhile, the government has ruled out any public sector pay rises in line with inflation.
Treasury minister, Simon Clarke, commented: “If we end up in a spiral whereby public sector workforces come to expect inflation-busting pay increases then that will lead to a spiral which we want to avoid whereby inflation becomes baked-in, it becomes both more severe and lasts longer than it needs to.”
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons