Transport secretary Grant Shapps has further hinted that the government could repeal the ban on using agency workers during strikes in a scathing attack on unions’ demands yesterday (16 June).
Speaking at a train maintenance plant in London yesterday, Shapps said plans to stage a national strike on 21, 23 and 25 June were “a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time”.
“The last thing the railway should be doing right now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike,” he added.
He claimed union bosses had driven rail staff to industrial action “under false pretences” and that striking could threaten jobs rather than protect them.
Shapps confirmed that the government would look at the “full range of options to stop the unions hurting the general public” in response to strikes, including repealing the ban on using agency workers to fill in for those on strike.
National rail strike
On pay, he said: “The median wage for rail workers is £44,000 and the median salary for train drivers is £59,000, with a fifth of drivers earning more than £70,000. But the average nurse earns around £31,000.”
“So rail pay rises can only be afforded in the long term alongside reform… We’re not asking railway workers to shoulder all the responsibility. We’re reducing the number of senior managers, and their pay.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, which represents many managers and desk-based staff in the sector, described Shapps’ threats as “mindless sabre rattling to the media”.
“What we heard from the transport secretary looked very much like threats and intimidation of workers instead of constructive dialogue,” he said.
“Bully boy tactics will not wash with our union when the truth is our members are fighting for their jobs, pay and for a safe railway fit for the future. The public needs to understand that it is the government which has set this country on the course of strike action.
“Shapps, Johnson and co are the obstacle to a settlement in these disputes, blocking rail companies from offering a deal.”
Members of the RMT, TSSA and Aslef have voted in favour of joining the national strike next week. Union leaders claim they have been subject to real-terms pay freezes since the pandemic and want reassurance that there will be no compulsory redundancies in 2022.
Around 40,000 staff from 13 train operating companies and Network Rail are expected to join the strike, while other strikes have been planned by Hull Trains (26 June) and drivers for Croydon Tramlink (28-29 June and 13-14 July).