Transport Minister Mark Harper warned the RMT union that there was no “bottomless pit of money” to be spent on increasing workers’ wages as railroad staff launched more strike action today.
Mr Harper told Sky News “there is a fair and reasonable salary offer on the table” and said it was “extremely unhelpful” for RMT members to choose it. strikes continue this week instead of further discussion to end the dispute.
“It’s not a bottomless pit of taxpayer money here,” he said.
“Taxpayers have invested heavily in the rail industry over the past few years, with the impact of the pandemic when people are not traveling.
“And I think you have to have an offer that’s fair to the people working in the industry, but also fair to the taxpayers who pay the bill – and that’s the balance we’re trying to achieve.”
‘Substantial disruption’ as people return to work – latest strikes
About 40,000 members of the RMT union from Network Rail and 14 train operators are taking industrial action today, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday – meaning most services nationwide will be down.
Train drivers will also go on a one-day strike on Thursday, meaning Britain’s rail network will be crippled during the first working week of 2023.
Passengers were asked to travel only if necessary.
Speaking from a strike line, RMT boss Mick Lynch told Sky News “an agreement could be reached in the next few days” adding that “companies know what they have to do”.
Mr Lynch said union members needed “an agreement that addresses all issues” and warned that if an agreement was not reached they could “vote again”.
“Our proposals and needs in this dispute are quite modest,” he said.
Lynch also reiterated allegations that ministers “undermined reconciliation efforts” and “torpedoed” a deal in December.
But Harper denied that ministers intervened in rail strike negotiations in December to stop a deal and said, “This is absolutely not true.”
He added that the “very fair wage offer on the table” was accepted by the two unions at Network Rail, as he urged the RMT union to “get off the strike line” and do the same.
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RMT strike days will see about half of the network shut down while only 20% of normal services are expected to run. These trains will also start later than usual and end much earlier, and services will only be available between 07.30 and 18.30.
Mr Lynch said the government should put forward its definitive proposals to move the negotiations forward.
“If he wants, I’ll go and see him now, or he can come over here and meet me and we can sort things out,” he said, referring to the transport minister.
“We keep hearing the same things from the government that they want to facilitate a deal from different sectors, but they’re not actually doing anything.”
Meanwhile, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, Tim Shoveller, said the state-owned company thinks “significant progress” has been made towards reaching a deal with RMT.
He said Network Rail wanted to “explain” to the union about the proposal, which its members rejected, and suggested that the proposal would be resubmitted and put to another vote by members.
“We think we’re short of about 2,000 people to secure the new deal, so we’re on the right track,” Shoveller said.
Downing Street said ministers were working “quickly” on anti-strike laws and to ensure that industrial action did not cause mass disruption during the year.
Offers may enforce minimum service levels in public transport.
“We want these new powers to be brought in as soon as possible,” the prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters.