The government faces growing anger over its refusal to participate in last-ditch talks to avert the largest rail strike in three decades, with millions confronted by a week of canceled trains and union leaders saying union action could fail. to spread.
With 40,000 railway workers set to take part in three days of strikes this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stressed that it was not the government’s job to negotiate wages, conditions, job losses and safety with unions.
But Jake Berry, a Conservative MP and former Minister of Railways, was among those who said ministers should sit down with government-owned Network Rail train operators and unions.
Labor demanded that ministers drop the boycott of talks, which continued on Sunday, in a bid to stem the threat of action.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also called on the government to play a positive role in the rail dispute rather than “increase tensions”. “The government has the power to help end this dispute,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.
The strike is due to start on Tuesday, followed by further strike days on Thursday and Saturday, with RMT union members walking away. Due to the outage, there will be a special timetable from Monday, with some evening services being slowed down until Sunday. About 20% of the trains will run on main lines and urban areas.
The RMT and Unite are also holding a separate 24-hour strike for London Underground workers on Tuesday, which will cause massive disruption to the Underground.
In recent weeks there have been numerous warnings from union leaders about the prospect of further union action this year as wage agreements lag far behind rising inflation of more than 10%. Healthcare workers, civil servants, teachers and garbage collectors will be allowed to vote for strikes in the coming months.
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, also raised the prospect of an ongoing program of train strikes if there is no resolution to the dispute. He told Sky News: “If there is no settlement, we will continue our campaign.”
He said: “I think there will be a lot of unions going to vote across the country because people can’t stand it anymore. We have people who have full-time jobs, who have to receive benefits and who have to use food banks. That is a national disgrace.”
Sunday night, a rail industry source said there was a “glimmer of hope” of a resolution, with talks between the rail industry and unions continuing into the night after it started at 2 p.m. Nevertheless, the two sides still seemed far apart on many of the key issues.
The strikes have also involved rail cleaners, customer service workers and ticket sales workers, all of whom earn far less than the average salary of a rail worker and risk losing most of their income to wage cuts in real terms.
Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, wrote to Shapps on Sunday evening: “The only way to resolve this is to get your government to stop boycotting the talks and sit down.
“Patients, schoolchildren, low-paid workers and passengers need a solution — and they won’t forgive the government if they don’t lift a finger to fix it.”
Keir Starmer accused Shapps of wanting the strikes to continue in order to sow division – a claim the transport secretary dismissed as “crazy”.
Speaking at a local government conference on Sunday, the Labor leader said: “They want the country to come to a standstill so they can feed on the divisions. Instead of spending their time at the negotiating table this week, they’re designing attack ads.
“Instead of having adult conversations to get the situation out of hand, they are throwing gasoline on the fire. Instead of bringing people together in the national interest, they stir up divisions in their political interest.”
But Shapps insisted the RMT union’s request for a meeting was a “stunt” and that the union was “determined to go on strike”.
“In what crazy world would anyone want to see our transportation industry come to a halt?” he said, focusing on students who are unable to attend exams and those who are likely to miss hospital appointments and struggle to get to work.
He told the BBC that the RMT was “nostalgic for the power of the unions in the 1970s, when they started eating sandwiches in No. 10 – we’re not going back to those days”.
Conservatives have consistently tried to associate the union-backed Labor Party with the strikes, although Starmer has repeatedly stressed that he believes the strikes should not take place.
The planned strikes will mean six days of disruption, with trains limited to one per hour on major intercity and urban routes between 07:30 and 18:30. Shifts start later and are reduced on subsequent days.
The action is being taken by Network Rail employees and on-board and station staff of 13 train operators in England.
The RMT has said thousands of maintenance jobs are at stake and cash register closures are being planned on top of wage freezes at a time of high inflation.
The Sunday Times reported this weekend that there are plans to close all ticket offices by September in a bid to save £500 million.
The signalmen’s strike will have the most impact, especially in more rural areas – leading to line closures in places, including Wales, where there is no direct dispute with the train operator. Most operators have told passengers to travel only if necessary on strike days. Northern Rail has advised travelers not to attempt to travel for the entire week.