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Unions say Transport Secretary should ‘stop blocking’ rail agreement

·2-min read
Passengers walk along the platform after alighting from a train at York station (Archive/PA) (PA Archive)
Passengers walk along the platform after alighting from a train at York station (Archive/PA) (PA Archive)

The TUC is calling on the Transport Secretary to stop “prolonging” the rail dispute ahead of another strike which will cripple services across the country.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union workers employed by Network Rail and 14 rail operators will take part in a one-day stoppage on Wednesday while TSSA members at Avanti West Coast will also be on strike.

Members of Aslef will be on strike across eight rail operators on Saturday July 30.

The TUC said contracts between rail operators and government allow the Government to direct how the current rail dispute is handled, and to apply financial sanctions if operators do not follow directions given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

A flag on an Aslef picket line (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
A flag on an Aslef picket line (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

A legal opinion commissioned by the TUC from Michael Ford QC advises that the Transport Secretary has “very extensive powers” over what can be agreed between rail operators and unions, and “very significant contractual power” to direct how industrial disputes are handled.

Rail operators are not free to agree terms and conditions with their employees without the involvement of the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said the TUC.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want to see successful negotiations to end this dispute.

“But the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is giving secret instructions to rail firms from behind the scenes and stopping them coming to a deal.

“It’s time for the Transport Secretary to stop blocking an agreement that will end the dispute.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “It’s extremely misleading to suggest the Transport Secretary should get involved in these negotiations.

His role is to protect the public purse, ensuring value for money for the hardworking people of this country.

“As such, he’s required to set the limits of taxpayer support and ultimately sign off on any deal, not to be involved in negotiating one, and his contracts with operators allow him to do precisely that.

“The union knows full well that negotiations over pay and working practices don’t happen with the Government, they happen with the employers of the people they represent.

“In this case, that’s Network Rail and the train operating companies.

“We once again urge union representatives to get back round the negotiating table instead of calling further strikes which serve only to bring disruption to people across the country.”

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