Rail strikes have lost their power and will lead to more job cuts, Grant Shapps warns RMT

·2 min read
RMT rally - Matt Dunham/AP
RMT rally - Matt Dunham/AP

Rail strikes no longer have the power to paralyse the nation, Grant Shapps has warned the union, as he accused them of defending “indefensible” working practices.

In an exclusive article for The Telegraph, the Transport Secretary said the strikes would instead rebound on the unions by driving travellers away from the railways, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of rail workers.

Mr Shapps said the way to get people back on the railways was through scrapping outdated working practices, some of which went back a century, and to modernise the industry.

“The days when rail strikes could bring the country to a halt are gone,” said Mr Shapps, pointing to the way commuters and business people could do their work via Zoom or from home.

“For millions more people rail is now a choice, not a necessity. Anything that stops people choosing rail threatens the future of the network and the jobs of those on it. So why is the RMT taking this incredible risk?”

He claimed it was nothing to do with a pay freeze as a three per cent rise was on the table, nor was it because the talks had failed. “No, the RMT is on strike in order to defend indefensible working practices,” he said.

Practices date back to 1923

He cited the anomaly where maintenance teams at King’s Cross could not deal with problems at Euston because they were in “different regions”, a demarcation dating back to 1923.

Because of the collapse in commuting, rail’s growth lay at weekends, but the industry could not run enough trains because most Sunday working was voluntary, based on a 1919 agreement.

“The rail industry still doesn’t allow rostering of multi-skilled workers. It means that whole teams have to be sent to do a job that could be done by one person, and they’re not even allowed to share vans or equipment – under agreements from the 1970s,” he said.

“If railway working practices applied to your kitchen you’d need two or three teams – electricians, carpenters and plumbers, each of them in a separate van – to install a dishwasher.”

The RMT has warned there could be further strikes as the Government braces for a summer of discontent with more than 1,200 Heathrow stuff set to strike next moth, bringing chaos to families heading off on holiday.

The NEU teaching union is set to ballot members over potential strikes, and pupils could face delays getting their GCSE and A-level results because staff at the AQA exam board are being balloted by their union, Unison.

A planned four-week rolling strike over pay by barristers, starting on Monday, could disrupt hundreds of court cases.

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