War of words between unions and the Government ahead of rail strikes

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman rejected claims the Government could be doing more to prevent the transport chaos.

(PA)
(PA)

A war of words has erupted between unions and the Government ahead of next week’s rail strikes after Downing Street accused unions of moving to industrial action without proper negotiations.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman rejected claims the Government could be doing more to prevent the transport chaos facing commuters.

The spokesman said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been “speaking to railway leaders, to Network Rail and to other groups throughout”.

He added: “But, fundamentally, obviously it’s for unions to have these negotiations with groups like Network Rail.

“It is our firm view that unions are skipping over a step, they’re not negotiating, they are moving straight to strike action.”

But union leaders hit back, accusing the Prime Minister of “turning his back” on talks.

General secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association Manuel Cortes (Rick Findler/PA)

Transport Salaried Staffs Association General Secretary Manuel Cortes said he wrote to Boris Johnson in May saying he was prepared to hold discussions with the Prime Minister.

Mr Cortes said: “These are just hollow words from the top of Government, with Johnson now clearly turning his back on talks and happy to face a summer of discontent on our railways.

“Instead of sitting down with us and seeking to solve this dispute, Johnson and his Ministers have been doing all they can to undermine any prospect of a negotiated settlement.

“While Grant Shapps and others claim there’s no money for our members, they have instructed management at Network Rail to throw endless pots of money at bribes aimed at attempting to break strikes.

“They have also floated the crazy plan to bring in temporary workers during industrial action, something which would seriously endanger safety on our railways.

“Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has the cheek to give the impression that talks with our union are just beginning when they know it’s total nonsense.

“Instead of peddling untruths, the Government would be better served by actually getting their hands dirty in discussions to secure a proper pay deal and job security for thousands of rail workers who were heroes in the pandemic.”

The Number 10 spokesman added that the Government “is doing everything possible to encourage unions to step back from the precipice of this and we want the negotiations to proceed”.

Mr Shapps updated ministers on the looming rail strike action at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Giving an official update on the meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “The Transport Secretary said the Government would remain on the side of the public, adding that strikes would also be bad for rail workers as it risked driving away customers when numbers were already down since the pandemic.

“He said the strikes also risk disrupting exams at a time when schoolchildren had already had their education significantly affected during the pandemic.”

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