A British rail union leader has been urged by ministers not to “hold the country to ransom” with strikes ahead of Christmas as he blamed the government for failing to avert the action.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch said on Tuesday that unions had a duty to take co-ordinated action in response to a “generalised attack on working people”.
He confirmed there would be additional disruption on the rails on Christmas Eve because of a walkout from 6pm until 6am on December 27th, following two 48-hour strikes next week.
Talks with the Rail Delivery Group, the industry representative body, over the long-running dispute on pay, jobs and conditions were set to take place on Tuesday.
Labour deputy 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 it was offered a “very good pay deal” of 8 per cent 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.”
Mr Lynch said he did 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 was always a wind-down of trains on Christmas Eve but, pressed if there would 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 13th and we can cancel the action – but I’ve been hoping for that all the summer.”
He argued wages were being lowered against soaring inflation, which passed 11 per cebt, while conditions are being “ripped up”.
“It would be foolish of unions not to co-ordinate themselves in response to those attacks,” he said.
Ms Rayner said striking workers were not taking action at a “drop of a hat”, saying they would “lose their pay at a time when they will need it most” because of the action.
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, which owns most of Britain’s rail infrastructure.
Transport secretary Mark Harper has said it was “incredibly disappointing” that strikes are going ahead despite a “new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise”. – PA