Christmas strikes by trade unions slammed by Downing Street for showing 'contempt for ordinary people'

Number 10 lashed out after unions accused ministers of using a rail dispute to plan tougher strike laws

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 19 December 2016 13:50
Comments
Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Downing Street has slammed unions for showing “contempt for ordinary people” with strikes it said are causing maximum damage over Christmas.

Theresa May’s official spokesperson said unions representing rail, airline and postal sectors had to explain the timing of strikes which would disrupt thousands of people’s lives.

He also said the Government did not rule out changes to legislation, but played down the suggestion, adding that Ms May’s focus is on ending current disputes.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said on Monday that the right for workers to down tools is a “fundamental British liberty”, amid current or planned actions by rail and postal workers, baggage handlers and British Airways cabin crew.

But Ms May’s official spokesperson said: “Their actions are clearly designed to bring maximum damage and disruption during the festive period. But the motivation for the timing of those strikes is an issue for them.

“What our focus has got to be on, is the people who are suffering, and how we can encourage all parties to get around the negotiating table and bring these disruptions to an end.”

The spokesperson declined to say whether Ms May regarded the strikes and their timing in the run-up to Christmas as politically-motivated.

Asked whether Ms May suspected the industrial action may be coordinated, the spokesperson added: “There are a number of strikes across different sectors for a number of different reasons.

Southern Rail strikes cause travel chaos for passengers

“If these strikes share one thing in common, it is a shared contempt for ordinary people trying to go about their ordinary lives.”

After Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he would “not rule anything out” when it came to reviewing anti-strike laws, Downing Street pointed out that the Government has just passed its Trade Union Act, though added that nothing was ruled out for the future.

Ms O’Grady told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government had “another agenda” in its opposition to the on-going Southern railway strike, suggesting it was being used to herald the need for further anti-strike laws despite the Act’s passing.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern Railway started a 48-hour stoppage in a long-running dispute over the role of conductors.

Coupled with a continuing ban on overtime by drivers in Aslef, the action caused fresh chaos for Southern’s 300,000 passengers.

Members of the Communication Workers Union will strike for five days this week, including Christmas Eve, in protest at job losses, the closure of a final salary pension scheme and the franchising of Crown Post Offices.

The union, which will stage a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Business Department in London, said there was strong backing for its campaign from the public.

British Airways cabin crew, who belong to the Unite union, are due to strike on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in a row over pay, although talks were being held at the conciliation service Acas on Monday.

Talks will also be held on Tuesday to try to avert pay strikes later in the week by Unite members employed by Swissport as baggage handlers and other ground staff at 18 airports.

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