UK ministers urged to hold last-ditch talks to avert mass rail strike

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Union leaders have warned that the biggest rail strike in a generation will continue until their members’ pay demands are met by the government, as pressure mounts on government to avert action with last-ditch talks.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT rail union, warned that strikes next week will be followed by further action lasting all year round and beyond unless a deal is reached.

“Until there is a settlement there will be a campaign of strike action, and other unions will join us . . . I expect there to be more strikes,” Lynch said. “We will renew the mandates until we get a settlement to the problems in the dispute,” he added.

On Tuesday, 40,000 Network Rail staff at 13 train operators will begin their strike over pay and redundancy disputes, which is expected to cause major transport disruption.

Lynch said the rail strike could still be called off within the next 48 hours if train operating companies accepted their demands on job losses, pay and work conditions. “We’ve got a threat to jobs. We want a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies,” he told LBC.

But Grant Shapps, transport secretary, has accused the RMT of “gunning” for strikes that would be “punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make in order to protect our rail network”.

He said the RMT was “jumping the gun”, adding it “seems determined to go out on strike” instead of focusing on negotiations.

The RMT has said that the pay rises being discussed — as little as 2 per cent — were inadequate given that inflation is forecast to reach 11 per cent this year. The union’s members voted for a six-month strike mandate in May, leaving the possibility of more strikes in the summer and autumn.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank argued on Sunday that the government had done enough to help lower-paid workers as inflation has soared, even if the RMT’s demands for rises were “understandable”.

“If everybody does that [agreeing to significant pay rises], then that will mean the inflation becomes embedded in the economy, so we would all be better off if we all took the low inflation pay rises,” IFS director Paul Johnson told Times Radio.

He added that the government had spent a “huge amount of money” this year supporting people’s living standards.

“They [rail workers] don’t actually need for this year to get a fully inflation-protected pay rise because, particularly for people on modest incomes, the level of government support is really, outside of Covid, pretty much unprecedented.”

The opposition Labour party have demanded the government hold last-ditch talks with the unions to avert strike action.

In a letter to Shapps sent on Sunday, shadow transport minister Louise Haigh wrote: “The only way to sort this out is for your government to stop boycotting the talks and get around the table.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling-up secretary, said the government had failed to properly engage with the unions. “None of us want strikes to have to go ahead,” she told the BBC.

Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, accused the unions of “bribing” workers to go on strike, citing an increase in the daily strike payments made by the Unison trade union from £25 a day to £50 a day, payable from day one of striking instead of day four.

The strikes will take place on June 21, 23 and 25 with Network Rail warning that the disruption is expected to last throughout the days between the action.

Disruption is expected on all of the UK’s major train lines, including the London Underground, LNER, Avanti West Coast and many commuter railways.

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