The RMT says the government must stop blocking the rail disputes deal

Rail strikes will continue until the government stops “blocking” a deal to resolve a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions, a union leader has warned.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Union for Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT), said there had been an “unprecedented level of ministerial interference” that prevented a settlement.

The government has denied claims by trade unions that this is now a major obstacle to ending the bitter dispute.

A new wave of strikes this week will cause travel chaos as RMT members and drivers go on strike at the Aslef scene.

About 40,000 Network Rail RMT members and 14 rail operators will take action on January 3, 4, 6 and 7, shutting down most rail services across the country.

A one-day strike by drivers on Thursday will paralyze services.

Passengers were urged to travel only if necessary.

RMT said despite best efforts over the festive period, rail employers had not arranged any formal negotiations to resolve the dispute.

The statement said: “Both Network Rail and Rail Delivery Group are being directly blocked by government ministers from making an acceptable proposal on job security, pay and working conditions.

“RMT remains available 24/7 for talks so that all parties can come to a negotiated settlement.”

The RMT said the position was in stark contrast to other areas of rail where the Department for Transport has no mandate.

The union said it had secured deals with Scotrail, Transport for Wales, Eurostar contracts and areas where rail is controlled by metro mayors.

The general secretary, Mr Lynch, said: “The government is blocking attempts by the union to negotiate an agreement with rail employers.

“We have worked with the rail industry to achieve successful negotiated deals since privatization in 1993 and in 2021 and 2022 we have concluded network-wide deals where the DfT is not involved.

“However, there is an unprecedented level of ministerial interference in this dispute, making it difficult for rail employers to negotiate a package of measures with us so that we can settle this dispute.

“We will continue our industrial action as we work towards a negotiated solution.”

Mick Lynch

Mick Lynch criticizes ministers over rail dispute (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Passengers, including those returning to work after the Christmas break, have been warned to expect “significant disruption” as only a limited number of trains will run.

We advised you to only travel when absolutely necessary, reserve extra time and check when the first and last trains leave.

There may be disruption to services on Sunday 8 January as staff return to their duties.

On RMT strike days, around half of the network will be down and only around 20% of normal services will be operational.

Trains that run will start later and finish much earlier than usual – with services typically running between 7.30am and 6.30pm on the day of the strike.

Thursday’s train drivers’ strike will affect 15 operators and result in even fewer runs, with some companies having “very much reduced” timetables.

Daniel Mann, director of industry operations at Rail Delivery Group, said: “No one wants these strikes to happen and we can only apologize to passengers and the many businesses that will be affected by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.

“We advise passengers to only travel when absolutely necessary during this period, allowing extra time and checking when their first and last trains leave.

“Passengers with tickets for the period from 3 to 7 January can use their ticket the day before the date of issue of the ticket or until Tuesday 10 January inclusive.

“This dispute will only be resolved by agreeing on the long-awaited labor reforms needed to put the industry on a sustainable footing, not by unions dooming their members to lose more pay in the new year.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency that the union was “in it for the long run”, adding: “We don’t want to go on strike, but the companies have pushed us into this place.

“They haven’t offered a dime to our members, and these are people who haven’t had a raise since April 2019.

“That means they expect the train drivers at these companies to take a real pay cut – they’ll work just as hard for much less – when inflation peaks north of 14%.

“The railway companies say that the government has tied their hands while the government – which does not employ us – says it is up to the companies to negotiate with us.

“We are always willing to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down and talk – but these companies have offered us nothing, and that is unacceptable.

“We keep coming to the table, but the table is empty. Six months after we applied for a raise for train drivers who have not had one for almost four years, we still have no offer from the railway companies that employ us.

“The ball is in their court. The companies or the Tory government behind them could now end this dispute by making a serious and reasonable wage offer. It depends on them.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Passengers are rightly fed up with rail strikes and want the disruption to end.

“The government has shown that it is reasonable and ready to facilitate the resolution of rail disputes. It is time for trade unions to sit down to the table and play their part as well.

“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public sector employees would cost everyone more in the long run – adding to debt, fueling inflation and costing each household an extra £1,000.

“Unions should pull back from this strike action so we can start 2023 with an end to this damaging dispute.”

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