A fresh strike by rail workers will go ahead on Thursday after the union at the centre of a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions accused the Transport Secretary of “wrecking” negotiations.
Talks were held on Wednesday between the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Network Rail and rail operators in a bid to break the deadlocked row.
But there was no breakthrough, with the RMT criticising Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Grant Shapps has wrecked these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members.
“Until the Government unshackle Network Rail and the train operating companies, it is not going to be possible for a negotiated settlement to be agreed.
“We will continue with our industrial campaign until we get a negotiated settlement that delivers job security and a pay rise for our members that deals with the escalating cost-of-living crisis.”
But Mr Shapps accused Mr Lynch of telling a “total lie”, arguing he had “absolutely nothing to do” with the issuing of a letter from Network Rail or any request to withdraw it.
RMT members at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out on Thursday following a stoppage on Tuesday, crippling large parts of the rail network.
Around 60% of services ran on Wednesday as it took time for trains and crews to get to depots following the walkout.
Some services will start to run down on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia will strike on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.
The company, which is also affected by the RMT dispute, advised passengers only to travel if it was necessary.
– The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced that its members at Merseyrail had accepted a 7.1% pay offer.
We remain available for talks - day or night - and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption for our passengers
Network Rail spokesperson
General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “What this clearly shows is our union, and sister unions, are in no way a block on finding the solutions needed to avoid a summer of discontent on the railways.
“Rather, it is the Government who are intent on digging in their heels. Grant Shapps would be wise to start talking seriously to our union as we ballot for industrial action on our railways up and down the land.”
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson: “We are very disappointed that the RMT leadership has decided to go ahead with tomorrow’s strikes. With passenger numbers still at only 80% of pre-pandemic levels the industry remains committed to giving a fair deal on pay while taking no more than its fair share from taxpayers.
“We can only achieve that by making improvements – like offering better services on a Sunday – that reflect the changing needs of passengers so we can attract more back. We call on the RMT leadership to continue to talk so that we can secure a thriving long-term future for the railway and its workforce.
“Our advice to passengers remains the same, only travel by rail if absolutely necessary, check before you travel and make sure you know the time of your first and last trains.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the RMT have again chosen to walk away from negotiations without agreeing a deal. We remain available for talks – day or night – and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption for our passengers.
“As a result of this needless and premature strike, rail services tomorrow will look much like they did on Tuesday – starting later in the morning and finishing much earlier in the evening (around 6.30pm).
“We are asking passengers to please check before you travel, be conscious of when your last available train is departing, and only travel by train if necessary.”
It is clear to us that the Government, and the train companies, really have only contempt for those who risked their lives to keep this country moving during Covid
Mick Whelan, Aslef
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said of the Greater Anglia strike: “Strike action is always the last resort but many of our members have not had a pay rise since 2019. We will fight to maintain the pay, terms and conditions, and the pensions of our members.
“The train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways – with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers – and train drivers are not prepared to work longer for less.
“We are suffering the same lies from the Government as the other rail unions. Companies are saying their hands are tied by the Government and Grant Shapps is saying it’s up to the employers.
“Well, why should we subsidise the privateers that made money whilst we had no pay rises and now make money out of so-called ‘modernisation’, which is just another lie.
“They want us to give ‘productivity’ to help keep their shareholders in profit. It is clear to us that the Government, and the train companies, really have only contempt for those who risked their lives to keep this country moving during Covid.”
On Mr Lynch’s claim he had “wrecked” negotiations, Mr Shapps said: “This is a total lie from the RMT and its general secretary. I have had absolutely nothing to do with either the issuing of a letter from Network Rail, the employer, to the RMT – or any request to withdraw it.
“I understand that the letter makes no mention of 2,900 redundancies, but I do know it confirmed Network Rail would be introducing desperately needed reforms for the industry after the union chose strike action instead of further talks.
“The RMT continues to deflect from the fact that the only people responsible for the massive public disruption this week is them.
“I want to urge Mick Lynch and his members to stop wasting time making false claims in the media and instead return to the negotiating table so an agreement can be reached.”