Boris Johnson is to call for a ‘sensible compromise’ on pay as the biggest rail strike in 30 years begins.
The prime minister is set to say that “too high demands” on pay will make it hard to curb rising inflation, which is among factors pushing up living costs for many workers.
Thousands of workers across Network Rail and 13 train operating companies, members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), have walked out today (21 June), with further 24-hour strikes planned for 23 and 25 June. Only one in five trains is expected to operate, and only on major routes.
London Undergound workers are also striking today, causing further misery for commuters in the capital.
The RMT union is seeking a pay rise of at least 7% to help offset the rising cost of living. Rail companies are thought to have offered 3%.
Johnson is expected to tell a cabinet meeting that “too high demands on pay will also make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living.”
He will also accuse unions of driving away commuters who “ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”.
“Now is the time to come to a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce,” he is expected to say.
The government is expected to push through legislation that will require a minimum service to operate during industrial action, allowing agency workers to replace staff who are on strike.
The plan has been described as “unworkable” by the TUC and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which in a joint statement said the government should abandon the proposal.
“Using agency staff to cover strikes will only prolong the conflict between employers and their staff. Strikes are industrial disputes within a single industry or firm,” the statement says. “Government needs to step up and do the work around resolving industrial disputes rather than inserting a third party in the form of agency workers into a dispute. That does nothing to solve the underlying issues between the company and their staff.
“In this tight labour market, agency workers are in high demand and can pick and choose the jobs they take. Agency staff are very unlikely to choose a role that requires them to cross a picket line versus one that doesn’t. Additionally, many roles that may be on strike require technical skills or training. Training agency workers to do these jobs would be expensive and time-consuming.”
Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, said: “Just a few months ago Grant Shapps slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff. But now he’s proposing to do the same on railways.
“Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce. It would put these workers in an appalling situation, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The RMT supports the campaign for a square deal for all working people in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, and our current campaign is a part of that more general campaign which means that public services have to be properly funded and all workers properly paid with good conditions.
“RMT remains available for discussions that will settle this dispute and ensure our transport system can operate without disruption.”