Rail union clashes with UK Government over Christmas strike action
Rail union chief Mick Lynch has been urged by UK ministers not to “hold the country to ransom” with strikes ahead of Christmas as he blamed them for failing to avert the action.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) general secretary said on Tuesday the unions have a duty to take coordinated action in response to a “generalised attack on working people”.
He confirmed there will be greater disruption on the rails on Christmas Eve because of a walkout from 6pm until 6am on December 27 following two 48-hour strikes next week.
Talks with the Rail Delivery Group over the long-running dispute on pay, jobs and conditions will still take place on Tuesday.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the “militant” Government of presiding over a “complete shambles” on the railways as she backed the workers’ right to strike.
But Government minister Nick Gibb argued the RMT’s “very disappointing decision” came after they were offered a “very good pay deal” of 8% over two years.
“So I think the unions really should call off this strike. It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations,” he told GB News.
“We would urge the unions to talk to employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer to Christmas.”
Forced into action
Mr Lynch insisted he does not want strikes to go ahead before Christmas but argued his members were being forced into action by the Government not allowing train operators a proper mandate to negotiate on pay and conditions.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We regret the inconvenience that we are causing but this inconvenience is being caused by the Government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the companies and directing what’s going on.
“They’ve held back even these paltry offers to the last minute so they know it’s very difficult to deal with these offers.”
He said there is always a wind-down of trains on Christmas eve but, pressed if there will be earlier disruption because of the action, he said “yes there will be”.
“They will run up until the evening time,” he said.
“We don’t want this to happen at Christmas.
“If we don’t respond they will just assume the dispute is over and they’ve got their way so we have to respond to that. I hope the companies change their positions before the action takes place on December 13 and we can cancel the action – but I’ve been hoping for that all the summer.”
He argued wages are being lowered against soaring inflation, which passed 11%, while conditions are being “ripped up”.
“It would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in response to those attacks,” he told Today.
Ms Rayner argued striking workers are not taking action at a “drop of a hat”, saying they will “lose their pay at a time when they will need it most” because of the action.
“This is a militant Government that is not dealing with the issues and not resolving this strike action and it’s frustrating,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“The system is absolutely crumbling without the strikes. Anyone who gets on a train now in the North knows that you’re praying if you’re going to get to where you need to get to. Many businesses are now losing staff because they can’t get to work.
“It’s a complete shambles of the Government’s making and they really need to get off their hands and resolve this.
“When I speak to the trade unions they’re very clear they do not want to go on strike, they want to resolve this dispute, it’s this Government that seems to want to ratchet it up and want to attack workers rights and cause this disruption.”
Strikes are set to hit 14 train companies next week as the RMT has recommended its members should reject the latest offer from Network Rail.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said it is “incredibly disappointing” that strikes are going ahead despite a “new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise”.
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