Union leaders accused the Government of “inflaming” tensions over the dispute ahead of several days of travel chaos because of train and Tube strikes.
Services on the railways and London Underground were crippled from today in the biggest walkout in the industry for more than 30 years in a row over pay, jobs and conditions. Journeys in the West Midlands and Staffordshire were decimated – and there were no trains at all in Shropshire.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail (NR) and 13 train operators will strike today, Thursday and Saturday, with only around one in five trains running and disruption to services on days following the action.
The RMT and Unite was today also holding a 24-hour walkout on London Underground, leading to huge disruption to the Tube.
The TUC today called on the Westminster government to adopt a positive role in the dispute, saying it was “inflaming tensions” with comments such as threatening to “revoke” workers’ legal rights.
The union organisation said rail workers in Wales have reached agreements with rail operators on pay and job protections while in Scotland there are “meaningful negotiations” taking place.
The TUC said ministers in Westminster were insisting on imposing cuts and planning to change the law so that employers can draft in agency workers in during industrial action, which it added was reminiscent of the action recently taken by P&O.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government has the power to help end this dispute but rather than working in good faith to find a negotiated settlement, ministers are inflaming tensions and trying to pitch worker against worker.”
The Department for Transport said it had committed £16 billion – or £600 per household – to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring not a single worker lost their job. But passenger numbers remain 25 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels and the railway remained “on life support”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the RMT had been “gunning” for industrial action for weeks and accused it of “punishing” millions of “innocent people” who will be affected by the strikes.
“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,” he said.
Rail Delivery Group chairman Steve Montgomery said talks will continue, adding: “We do want to offer them something but we have to have reform. There is room for compromise. We have got to work together, but we can resolve it. This is resolvable.”
Tim Shoveller, managing director of Network Rail’s central region, covering the West Midlands, said the company is “absolutely committed” to finding a solution to the pay dispute with workers.
He said: “As always, this is about how we can make the railway more efficient to generate the funds so that we can make the pay awards that our colleagues want.”
Asked if Network Rail is willing to see the dispute run all summer, he said: “I think it would be a disaster for the country. It would be a disaster for our passengers and really bad for our employees, who would lose loads of money by having a long, drawn-out strike – that really is the worst place we can get to.”