Rail strikes will ‘punish millions of innocent people’, govt warns – but Labour claims PM wants it to happen

Politics

The RMT’s decision to proceed with train strikes next week will “punish millions of people”, the transport secretary has said.

Grant Shapps warned the UK is “now on the cusp of major disruption which will cause misery for people right across the country”.

He also claimed the RMT union had been repeatedly urged not to proceed with the “damaging” industrial action – and focus on negotiations instead.

Mr Shapps said teenagers preparing for their exams will face the additional stress of changing their travel plans, while patients may have to cancel hospital appointments.

He added: “Many people who do not get paid if they can’t get to work face losing money at a time they simply can’t afford to.”

Talks have failed to resolve a bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions – and next week’s rail strikes are set to be the biggest in decades.

Strike ‘bribes’

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They will take place on Tuesday 21, Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 June.

Some of the larger trade unions behind the action have now also been accused by the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng of “bribing” workers to go on strike.

British Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng arrives at the Cabinet Office in London, Britain, January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The Sunday Telegraph claims tax-free payments are being offered by several, which are being funded from “strike funds”.

The paper says Unite, which has threatened strikes in councils and across bus networks, has been putting up posters in local government buildings advertising its “£70 a day strike pay” to staff.

Explainer: Here’s all the detail you need to know to get through the disruption

However, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said thousands of jobs were being cut across the rail networks, and workers were facing below-inflation pay rises.

Network Rail has warned the strikes will cause six days of disruption because of the knock-on effect on services on the days in between.

Government ‘pouring petrol on the fire’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has criticised the government’s handling of the dispute – claiming the Conservatives have been “pouring fuel on the fire”.

During a speech in Warwick on Sunday, he will accuse Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps of actually wanting the strikes to go ahead, saying: “They want the country to grind to a halt so they can feed off the division.”

“Instead of spending their time this week around the negotiating table, they are designing attack ads.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the government has committed £16bn to keep the railways running throughout the pandemic.

Plans to close all station ticket offices?

They added: “The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25% down and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs.

“Train travel for millions more people is now a choice, not a necessity. Strikes stop our customers choosing rail, and they might never return.”

Other news sure to upset unions, are claims by the Sunday Times the rail network is on the verge of closing all ticket offices at English stations.

According to the paper, plans have been drawn up to phase out paper tickets, in a bid to save up to £500 million a year.

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