Minister says Wimbledon tube strikes are 'blackmail'

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The Independent Online

A Government minister today accused a union of using "blackmail" at the expense of tennis fans for planning Tube strikes during the Wimbledon championships.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt hit out over plans by members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union to stage a series of walkouts starting on Sunday evening (June 19), the day before Wimbledon opens, in a row over the sacking of a colleague.

Further strikes are planned in the week beginning June 27, threatening disruption to fans travelling to Wimbledon on London Underground.

Mr Hunt tweeted today: "Can't believe the RMT are planning to strike over Wimbledon. Feels like an utterly cynical attempt at blackmail at expense of 000's of fans."

The strikes are over the sacking of Arwyn Thomas, who has taken a claim of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal, with the result expected by the end of the month.

RMT leader Bob Crow said: "RMT isn't blackmailing anyone. We've had a fully legal ballot and all we are doing is standing shoulder to shoulder with a member who has been picked on and victimised by an LU management prepared to flout employment law and ignore the judge's words in the employment tribunal.

"That's simply standing up for basic workers' rights and is clearly too much for old-school Tory right-wingers like Jeremy Hunt to stomach."

Meanwhile, RMT regional organiser Steve Hedley today wrote to RMT members, saying: "We cannot stand idly by and wait for a full employment tribunal to decide Arwyn's fate. Employers do not have to reinstate workers even when the tribunal rules that they should.

"London Underground has set an incredibly high bar for Arwyn's reinstatement - they have said that they will only consider reinstatement if Arwyn is found to have been sacked solely for his trade union activities.

"Tribunals do not make rulings like this - they always find that the person has contributed to their dismissal in some, however small, respect.

"This is particularly hypocritical when they made a guarantee to the RMT that they would try to reach an acceptable settlement of Arwyn's case before the full tribunal took place. In the event they were only prepared to offer him some money which he as a very principled trade unionist has rejected."

London Mayor Boris Johnson, said: "Firefighters stopped their union bosses spoiling Guy Fawkes night. Train drivers stopped their union ruining the royal wedding. Tube staff now have to tell Bob Crow not to trash the tennis."