Talks over the bitter rail workers’ dispute will be held on Thursday ahead of a fresh round of strikes set to cripple services across the country.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will meet Transport Secretary Mark Harper after accusing the Government of blocking negotiations in a long-running row over pay, jobs and conditions.
The RMT has announced a series of 48-hour strikes in December and January by its members at Network Rail and 14 train companies – and an overtime ban over Christmas and the New Year, which threatens travel chaos over the festive period.
Mr Lynch said: “This latest round of strikes will show how important our members are to the running of this country and will send a clear message that we want a good deal on job security, pay and conditions for our people.
“We have been reasonable but it is impossible to find a negotiated settlement when the dead hand of government is presiding over these talks.
“The employers are in disarray and saying different things to different people sometimes at the same time. This whole process has become a farce that only the new Secretary of State can resolve. When I meet him, I will deliver that message.
“In the meantime, our message to the public is we are sorry to inconvenience you but we urge you to direct your anger and frustration at the Government and railway employers during this latest phase of action.”
RMT official John Leach said he hopes Mr Harper “puts his shoulder behind the wheel and gets a deal moving” when he meets Mr Lynch.
Mr Leach told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Let’s hope that the third secretary of state down in England in less than six months has got something better to say than Grant Shapps and Anne-Marie Trevelyan before him and actually puts his shoulder behind the wheel and gets a deal moving.
“There’s a deal that can be done here. We’re professional negotiators. Our members just want a pay rise. They haven’t had one for two or three years and this will be nearly the fourth coming up.
“They’ve just got to commit themselves to fairness for our members but if they don’t then we’re going to see more and more disruption like this and we are determined to see this through for our members.”
Asked how long strikes could go on for, Mr Leach said: “We will do what we need to do and take this forward.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the consequences of the strikes announced by the RMT will be “quite serious”, disrupting “medical appointments”, for example, as well as “family reunions” taking place over the festive period.
“The timing of these strikes are designed to create maximum disruption across the Christmas period,” he said.
Mr Stride told TalkTV: “The Secretary of State is actually meeting the rail union leaders later this week so there is that dialogue occurring.
“The essential discussions have to occur between the rail operating companies, Network Rail and the unions, and they really should be engaging more on that and working things out between them more vigorously, in my view, than simply rushing off and going into strike action.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said people have a right to campaign for a fair pay deal but ultimately a deal is needed.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We recognise people have got a right to do everything they can to campaign for a fair pay deal and they will continue to do so.
“And people have a right to withdraw their labour and to strike as part of that, and we’ll always support people’s right to be able to do that, but ultimately we need a deal in place, and that is what we’ve been calling for.”
She said she wants the Government to “get its act together on this”.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef at 11 train companies will strike on Saturday in their dispute over pay, causing widespread disruption to services.