PM seeks ‘constructive’ approach with time running out to avoid bleak winter of strikes


As a winter of strike action looms, and a growing list of unions threaten to grind the county to a halt, the PM is under pressure.

Rishi Sunak is attempting a more constructive, less combative, approach with the unions.

A government source said the meetings involving Mick Lynch and the transport secretary and rail minister were “courteous” and “constructive”.

He said the government is treading a careful line between “being tough but also being human and treating people with respect”.

A passenger information message is displayed beside temporary closure barriers, as rail workers in Britain strike over pay and terms, at Waterloo Station in London, Britain, August 18, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

There is a certain amount of public sympathy for industrial action, particularly when it comes to health care workers, but some Conservatives want tougher action on the unions.

A senior Tory backbencher told me the government needs to go “further and faster” with laws to curb public sector rights, and “outcome not process” is needed.

One option we understand is on the table is to expand plans to ensure transport services run during strike action.

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The plans, which were brought to parliament under Liz Truss, ensure minimum staffing levels are maintained at all times or transport unions risk losing legal protections.

No decisions have yet been made, civil servants are working all weekend and preparing a number of options to limit strike action.

A government source said there remains a “small window” of opportunity to restore the Christmas rail timetable, but there is “a mountain to climb”.

The source said, “we are tempering optimism with realism”. The reality is the time to avert a bleak December of strikes is running out.

Read more:
Christmas travel warning as road workers to strike at same time as rail walkouts

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Strikes ‘a lot on government’s plate’

But this is about more than Christmas, without a breakthrough, and the government making clear sweeping inflation-level pay rises are unaffordable, the row will persist next year.

As the strain of strike action drags and a general election slowly creeps into view, industrial action will focus minds and swing votes.

The tone may have changed, but there’s no easy fix to the problem of public sector pay.

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