Grant Shapps condemns rail strikes for causing 'misery and chaos'

Grant Shapps condemns ‘callous’ rail strikes for causing ‘misery and chaos to millions’: Transport Secretary blasts ‘some of the best-paid union barons’ for orchestrating walkout as he urges them to return to negotiating table

  • The Transport Secretary lambasted unions for striking on three days this week
  • He told MPs today it is set to cause ‘misery and chaos to millions of commuters’
  • Rail unions have called for a pay rise to reflect the ever increasing cost of living
  • Labour said the strikes going ahead showed a ‘catastrophic failure of leadership’

Grant Shapps has condemned ‘callous’ rail strikes for causing ‘misery and chaos to millions’ as he urged unions to return to the negotiating table.

The Transport Secretary took aim at the RMT and criticised ‘some of the best-paid union barons’ for orchestrating the walkout.

Millions of commuters and travellers will be impacted this week as thousands of union members strike over pay and conditions at Network Rail and 14 rail operators.

The unions are demanding a pay increase in line with inflation and a guarantee that no jobs will be cut, and will walkout on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week.

During a statement in the House of Commons today Mr Shapps hit out at the unions, saying: ‘We are now less than eight hours away from the biggest railway strike since 1989.

‘A strike orchestrated by some of the best-paid union barons representing some of the better-paid workers in this country, which will cause misery and chaos to millions of commuters.

‘This weekend we’ve seen union leaders use all the tricks in the book to confuse, obfuscate, to mislead the public.

Grant Shapps, speaking in College Green, London, today. The Transport Secretary has hit out at the ‘callous’ rail strikes going ahead this week

Rail strikes will take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week as union members walkout on their jobs in a dispute over pay and conditions

‘Not only do they wish to drag the railway back to the 1970s, they’re also employing the tactics of bygone unions too – deflecting accountability for their strikes onto others, attempting to shift the blame for their action which will cause disruption and cause damage to millions of people, and claiming that others are somehow preventing an agreement to their negotiation.’

Mr Shapps, who has come under pressure to explain why the Government is not directly involved in the talks, argued it is ‘not the employer’ and it is for the train operating companies, Network Rail and the unions to come to an agreement.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the strikes going ahead will represent a ‘catastrophic failure of leadership’.

She said: ‘Ministers owe it to all those impacted by this serious disruption to get around the table for last ditch talks, to sort it out and avert this disruption.’

The Labour frontbencher added: ‘Not only has he been boycotting the talks, he’s tied the hands of those at the table.

‘He and his department failed to give the train operating companies, a party to these talks, any mandate to negotiate whatsoever… These talks are a sham because ministers have set them up to fail.’

Mr Shapps, in his reply, said: ‘That was a lot of words to avoid using… the four words ‘I condemn the strikes’.’

He added: ‘The unions wrongly told their workers that there would be no pay rise: there will be a pay rise, because the pay freeze is coming to an end, so that was untrue.’ 

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, urged Mr Shapps to stop ‘grandstanding’ and hold talks with union bosses.

Mr Shapps said RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch had made clear he had ‘walked out’ of the talks with employers, adding: ‘We are ready to speak, we want to see this settled, pay offers have been put down, the modernisation is required in return, it takes two to tango.’

Ms Maskell could be heard saying: ‘You need to be there.’

Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: ‘The British public, I believe, expect a Secretary of State not to come in here ranting to provoke a strike but to behave with the dignity and responsibility of the high office that he holds.’

Conservative MP for Southend West, Anna Firth, raised the impact of the strikes on students, with Mr Shapps replying: ‘It’s actually callous, that’s what it is.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, at its headquarters in London this afternoon

LONDON LIVERPOOL STREET — Passengers walk through London Liverpool Street today ahead of the rail strikes tomorrow

‘I have a daughter who is taking an exam on Thursday. Thursday’s a strike day, she will now go in by car.

‘I can see the stress is already building on her because she’s now worried about getting there… It’s a callous approach.’

Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Jack Brereton, also said: ‘It’s absolutely not the right thing to be striking and these totally reckless actions by the unions must be condemned.’

On rail season ticket holders, Mr Shapps said: ‘I am arranging so that people who have annual season tickets, rather than having to rely on the delay-repay system, are able to apply and get their money back for the days they’re unable to travel this week.’

Now BARRISTERS vote to strike next week

Barristers earning an average of £89,200-a-year – 200% above the national average – voted to strike today in a row over legal aid funding as teachers, binmen and NHS staff all threatened to walk out on a level not seen since the Winter of Discontent in the 1970s.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said several days of court walkouts will begin from next week along with a refusal to take on new cases.

The promised industrial action, announced this morning following a ballot of members, comes at a time of significant backlogs across the court system due to the pandemic.

The CBA said around 81.5% of the more than 2,000 members to respond supported industrial action.

Jo Sidhu QC and Kirsty Brimelow QC from the CBA said: ‘This extraordinary commitment to the democratic process reflects a recognition amongst criminal barristers at all levels of call and across all Circuits that what is at stake is the survival of a profession of specialist criminal advocates and of the criminal justice system which depends so critically upon their labour.

‘Without immediate action to halt the exodus of criminal barristers from our ranks, the record backlog that has crippled our courts will continue to inflict misery upon victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed.’

Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out tomorrow and on Thursday and Saturday. 

Services across the UK will start to be affected from this evening, with just one in five trains running on strike days, primarily on main lines and only for around 11 hours.

Talks were held into this afternoon but the sides remain deadlocked over a deal. The RMT say the pay proposals were a ‘2 per cent down payment with the possibility of 1 per cent more’. 

It added that the train operators have now made an offer and there is no further offer from Network Rail following one rejected last Friday.

London Underground workers from the RMT and Unite unions are also going on strike tomorrow – and Britons were today planning journeys home from work on the final day before the action begins, with services set to be crippled for the rest of the week in some areas.

The RMT said rail companies were ‘attacking’ the Railway Pension Scheme and the Transport for London scheme, diluting benefits, making staff work longer and making them poorer in retirement, while having to pay increased contributions.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the pay proposals ‘are a 2 per cent down payment with the possibility of 1 per cent more, but we have to accept their full agenda of job cuts, changes to working practices, and of course we have to accept that we have not had a pay rise for our members in three years’.

He added: ‘And this is more of a whimper than a bang – there’s nothing in this that we can compromise on. And I don’t think any trade union in the country could accept what is on the table today.’

Mr Lynch also warned that the UK could see a series of rail strikes over the next couple of months if a deal is not reached. 

He said: ‘Our campaign will run as long as it needs to run until we get a settlement acceptable to our people. 

‘Whenever we get an offer that is tenable we will put that to our members in a referendum.’ 

Asked if the strikes could last for months if a deal is not reached Mr Lynch replied: ‘I think it will, yes.’ 

However, Downing Street argued that the strikes will not resolve the issues faced on the railways. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘This is deeply disappointing, that these disruptive, these self-defeating strikes will take place this week. 

‘Striking does nothing to address the long-standing issues that we need to sort to make sure our railway, that the public use and treasure, is fit for the long term.’ 

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