Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has urged the RMT union to call off a national strike planned for next week, describing the action as ‘damaging’.
The Secretary of State visited Siemens Mobility’s Hornsey depot in north London to deliver a speech to the media on 16 June. Mr Shapps said the strikes are ‘not only a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time, they are also an incredible act of self-harm by the union leadership’. He accused union leaders of calling strikes out of political motivation, rather than out of concern for the staff they represent.
Continuing, the Transport Secretary said rising passenger demand could no longer be taken for granted given the societal changes around working from home. ‘The last thing the railway should be doing right now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike’ he said.
Mr Shapps denied that the Government is imposing a pay freeze, and said there are pay rises available for staff as part of a fair deal that would involve ‘reform and modernisation’. ‘Productivity brings wage increases’ he said, citing as examples of the need for change the voluntary nature of Sunday working in many places and the rapid fall in the number of tickets bought from ticket offices.
Responding to a call from RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch for Mr Shapps to negotiate with the union, the Secretary of State said unions should negotiate with Network Rail and train operators. However, Modern Railways understands this negotiation has been hampered by train operators not being given terms on which to negotiate with trade unions and even permission to do so.
‘The whole point of these reforms is to build a sustainable, growing railway where every rail worker receives a decent annual pay rise. But right now, pay needs to be in step with the wider public sector’ said the Transport Secretary. He quoted figures about average pay for rail workers, but these included salaries for drivers, despite the fact the RMT union does not in the main represent drivers. Mr Shapps called for the rail industry to cut its costs, and said ‘the whole railway must play its part’.
‘We will not be diverted from rail reform, from building a more agile and flexible workforce and from putting rail passengers first’ Mr Shapps concluded. ‘Just as we cannot modernise the railway with obsolete technology, we cannot do it by clinging on to obsolete working practices from the past either. We have a rare opportunity here, to fix the issues that have long plagued the railway. But with strikes, all we’re going to do is lose even more passengers, lose even more revenue, make further investment in the railway uneconomical and potentially lose thousands of railway jobs.’