Rail workers who are set to bring misery to millions of Britons are demanding pay rises of at least seven per cent and the protection of their 35-hour working week, their trade union leader has revealed.
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) today set out why his members are gearing up for the biggest rail strike in decades.
A walkout is planned for the 21st, 23rd and 25th of June with the action set to bring Britain’s rail network to a standstill and cause widespread disruption.
Mr Lynch outlined how RMT members are pushing back against job cuts and changes to rail safety rules, as well as demanding pay increases and protections for their terms and conditions.
He did not rule out further rail strikes beyond this month’s planned action.
But he denied rail workers were asking for ‘special treatment’ as millions of other Britons also feel the squeeze to their pay packets due to the cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Lynch claimed public sector workers were being ‘robbed of wages’ due to soaring inflation rates.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused the RMT leader of ‘gunning’ for strike action throughout negotiations and warned the ‘completely unnecessary’ walkout would be a ‘huge mistake’.
He claimed the RMT were ‘jeopardising the future of the railway itself’ by pushing back against the railways being ‘modernised’.
The Cabinet minister also dismissed union calls for the Government to step in to resolve the dispute as an ’11th hour stunt’.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch claimed public sector workers were being ‘robbed of wages’ due to soaring inflation rates
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused the RMT leader of ‘gunning’ for strike action throughout negotiations
Mr Shapps warned next week’s planned strike will bring chaos to students trying to do their GCSE and A-level exams, as well as impacting those trying to get to hospital for operations.
But, speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, Mr Lynch insisted the RMT did not ‘want to be the cause of disruption in people’s lives’.
He said: ‘We want a settlement to this dispute. But we’re facing a crisis for our members.
‘We’re faced with thousands of job cuts – despite what Grant Shapps says – there’s no guarantee these redundancies won’t be compulsory.
‘We’ve seen four or five thousands jobs already go from the railway. They’ve told our maintenance staff on Network Rail that three thousand jobs will go.
‘They’re going to cut back on the safety regime, they’ve told us that every single booking office in Britain will close.
‘They’ve told us that they’re going to extend the working week from 35 hours to 40, or possibly 44.
‘And for new entrants that will mean lower wages. So they’re actually proposing pay cuts, not a pay rise, and an increase in working time on the railway.’
Mr Lynch also revealed the RMT are asking for pay for its members to ‘reflect’ the cost of living, at a time of soaring inflation.
‘At the time of the Network Rail pay deal, which should have been done in December, it was 7.1 per cent, the Retail Price Index,’ he said.
Asked if a a 7.1 per cent pay rise is what the RMT are demanding for rail staff, he replied: ‘That’s what the cost of living would have been at the time these deals should have been struck, so we’re going to negotiate to see if we can get a deal that reflects that cost of living.
‘There a number of ways in which you can put value into a package, it’s not all about straightforward pay.
‘So we’ll talk to them constructively, but they’re making offers that are nowhere near that.
‘And for half the people in this dispute, there’s no offer at all and for many of them it’s the third year where there’s no offer and no proposal.’
The RMT general secretary insisted his union was ‘not asking for special treatment’.
‘We’ve had pay cuts – most of our members have not had a pay rise for two to three years,’ he added.
‘I’m talking about actual pay cuts, the reduction of salaries, as well as the losses against the rate of inflation.’
Mr Shapps warned next week’s strike would be ‘disastrous’ for the rail industry.
He told the same programme: ‘It is a huge mistake. The unions have been gunning for this strike throughout. This strike is completely unnecessary.
‘It is going to inconvenience millions of people – students doing their GCSEs and A-levels, people trying to get to hospitals to try get operations that have been postponed, perhaps, during coronavirus.
‘It is disastrous. It is no way to behave on the railway. There is no advantage to this. I know Mick Lynch says he is “nostalgic for union power” but this is no way to behave.’
The Transport Secretary also dismissed calls from the RMT for the Government to step in to resolve the rail dispute as a ‘stunt’.
‘The trade unions know that only the trade union and the employer can settle this,’ he said.
‘I will not cut across that. I will not undermine the employer’s works.
‘This is a stunt at the 11th hour by the union, suddenly coming forward and saying “We need to negotiate with the Government now” even though this last month they told me they wouldn’t be seen dead negotiating with the Government.”
In a warning about the impact of industrial action on the future of Britain’s rail network, Mr Shapps added: ‘Of course, it is a reality that if we can’t get these railways modernised, if we can’t get the kind of efficiency that will mean that they can work on behalf of the travelling public, then of course it is jeopardising the future of the railway itself.
‘I think it is a huge act of self-harm to go on strike at the moment. I don’t believe the workers are anywhere as militant as their unions who are leading them up the garden path. They are gunning for this strike. It is completely unnecessary.’