Government accused of ‘exacerbating tensions’ over rail dispute

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Union leaders have accused the government of “inflaming” tensions over the rail dispute ahead of several days of travel chaos due to train and tube strikes.

Services on London’s railways and underground will be paralyzed from Tuesday in the biggest industry walkout in more than 30 consecutive years over pay, jobs and conditions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail (NR) and 13 rail operators will strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with only around one in five trains running and services disrupted in the days following the ‘stock.

The RMT and Unite are also organizing a 24 hour strike on the London Underground which will cause huge disruption on the Tube.

The TUC is calling on the government in Westminster to take a positive role in the dispute, saying it is “stirring up tensions” with comments such as threatening to “revoke” workers’ legal rights.

The union organization said railway workers in Wales had reached agreements with rail operators on wages and job protection, while in Scotland “meaningful negotiations” were underway.

The TUC said Westminster ministers were pushing for cuts and planning to change the law so employers could bring in agency workers during the industrial action, which it added was reminiscent of the action recently undertaken by P&O.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government has the power to help end this dispute, but rather than working in good faith to find a negotiated settlement, ministers are stoking tensions and attempt to pit workers against workers.

(PA graphics)

‘Instead of threatening to do a P&O on these workers and tearing up their rights, ministers should get people around the table to help agree a fair deal.’

Ms O’Grady said no one was taking the strike lightly, but argued railway staff had ‘no other choice’.

“Many of the railway workers who will be hardest hit – such as caterers and cleaners – have low and middle incomes. It is insulting to ask them to take another pay cut in real terms when the rail companies have taken in £500million in profits during the pandemic.

“If these cuts are implemented, thousands of essential safety and frontline jobs will be lost, and rail services will also be at risk.

“We need a better vision for the future of rail than commuters packed into dangerous trains like sardines.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is extremely disappointing and premature that the RMT is pursuing industrial action.

“The government has committed £16billion – or £600 per household – to keep our railways running through the pandemic while ensuring that no worker loses their job.

“The railway is still on life support, with a 25% drop in passenger numbers and anything that takes it further away risks killing services and jobs.

“Train travel for millions more people is now a choice, not a necessity. Strikes prevent our customers from choosing rail and they may never come back.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the RMT had been launching industrial action for weeks and accused it of “punishing” millions of “innocent people” who will be affected by the strikes.

“Of course it’s a reality that if we can’t modernize these railways, if we can’t get the kind of efficiency that means they can work on behalf of the traveling public, then of course that puts jeopardize the future of the railway itself,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Rail Delivery Group chairman Steve Montgomery said the BBC talks would continue on Monday, adding: “We want to offer them something but we have to have reform.

“There is room for compromise. We have to work together, but we can solve it. It’s solvable.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “We are acutely aware of the cost of living pressures felt by workers and families across the UK.

“Every company wants to support its people and the railway is no exception.

“But, as an industry, we need to change the way we work and improve productivity to help pay our own way – the alternatives of asking taxpayers to shoulder the burden or passengers to pay higher fares when ‘they too feel the pinch just isn’t fair.”

The strikes will affect a number of events, including the Glastonbury Festival and London concerts by Elton John and the Rolling Stones, as well as school exams.

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