Union calls for talks with ministers branded a stunton June 21, 2022 at 9:45 am

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It is the job of employers to meet unions, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says.

Man looking at notice about service disruption at London Bridge stationImage source, EPA

Calls for the government to get involved in rail strike negotiations have been dismissed as a stunt by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Only 20% of trains are understood to be running – two more strikes are planned for Thursday and Saturday.

Mick Lynch, secretary general of the RMT union, said talks collapsed on Monday after a compulsory redundancy notice was issued.

Millions of passengers in England, Wales and Scotland face disruption.

Staff at Network Rail and 13 rail operators walked out at midnight.

A separate Tube strike in London is also under way over job cuts and changes to pensions.

On the rail strike, Boris Johnson is expected later to urge a “sensible compromise” on pay and will say “too high demands” on wages will make it hard to halt rising inflation.

He will accuse unions of “driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”, while hurting businesses across the country.

The prime minister will say that “hard-working public sector workers” should be rewarded, but the pay increase must be “proportionate and balanced”.

Just one in five trains are expected to run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The remaining trains will run predominantly on main lines and only for about 11 hours, with Network Rail urging passengers to travel by rail only if necessary.

The RMT rail union accused the government of preventing employers from freely negotiating on pay.

But Mr Shapps said it would “undermine” the situation if ministers got involved in talks, saying “it’s the job of the employers to meet with the unions”.

“We need to have a modernised railway,” Mr Shapps said, adding that there was a “pay offer on table, the door is open.”

Asked when he personally last met with the RMT he said whilst his rail ministers speak to the union, “I don’t meet with them because that is the job of the employees and this is a stunt by unions” to call for it – “if I thought it would help I would at a drop of a hat”.

Mr Shapps said the government was holding daily meetings on the strikes – “there is no discussions – we’ve been working on this for months and year.”

The RMT union is asking for a pay rise of at least 7% to offset the rising cost of living, but it says employers have offered a maximum of 3% – on condition they also accept job cuts and changes to working practices.

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The Bank of England has forecast that inflation is set to hit 11% in the autumn, with prices rising at the fastest rate for 40 years.

Mr Lynch said staff were being asked to accept thousands of job cuts, reduced pensions, worse terms and conditions and a cut in real-terms pay as living costs soar.

He said the “dead hand” of the government had been actively preventing employers and the union from reaching a settlement, although ministers have denied they played a role in talks.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, Christine Jardine, told BBC Breakfast: “People have been let down; police, health workers, students and children with exams this morning, teachers thinking how are they going get into schools. It’s not good enough.”

CEO of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, said the government “has not been the constraining factor in negotiations” and, for the right deal “we could go above” the 3% pay rise.

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Analysis box by Chris Mason, political editor

The rail strike is on.

Perhaps you’re reading this in a long queue for the bus. Or packed on to one of the few trains that is running.

The RMT trade union reckons the whole thing has been “manufactured” by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Mr Shapps claims it has been “created by the unions.”

So what will happen next, both on the railways and in the wider economy?

The government insists there is no point it getting directly involved in this dispute, arguing that you have to go back decades to find a cabinet minister involved in negotiations with a trade union.

Sources also point out there have been around 60 meetings between the industry and the RMT on the fine details of the dispute, and the transport secretary wouldn’t be saying anything different were he involved.

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Mr Lynch said industrial action would run “as long as it needs to”, saying the strikes could last months if a deal was not reached.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh earlier accused Mr Shapps of not giving train operating companies “any mandate to negotiate”, saying the talks were a “sham”.

Although ScotRail and Transport for Wales are not part of the dispute, services in Scotland and Wales are also affected because they rely on Network Rail staff. ScotRail said 90% of trains will be cancelled during the three days of industrial action.

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