Rail union leaders accuse government of ‘blocking’ deal to end Christmas strikes

Rail union leaders have continued to blame the Government for “blocking” a deal to end the long running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions which threatens more travel chaos in the run up to Christmas.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said the strikes “come gift wrapped from Rishi Sunak”, claiming the Government was preventing rail employers from making any improvements to offers for workers in train operating companies.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) made the same claim on Wednesday evening, warning that a resolution is now further away.

Members of both unions, and Unite, are set to launch a series of strikes in the next few weeks which will cripple services.

The TSSA said that despite some hope earlier in the week that progress and movement could be made in an attempt to resolve the dispute, the Government yesterday “blocked” efforts by employers to table an improved offer.

“This is devastating news for rail workers, passengers and the wider economy as it exposes the damage the Government is willing to do to working people,” said TSSA interim general secretary, Frank Ward.

“Rail workers and the industry have been put in an impossible position by the Tory government. Christmas chaos and disruption across our railways are now unfortunately guaranteed, and come gift wrapped from Rishi Sunak and his anti-worker Conservative government’s agenda.

“We are truly sorry for the disruption that this action will cause to passengers and businesses. We have tried everything to achieve a resolution, but we will not sell our members’ jobs for a cheap deal that slashes their pay and fails to provide the job security being given to colleagues in the rail industry.”

Rail Strikes
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Strikes in several industries will escalate in the next few weeks, starting with another walkout by Royal Mail workers on Friday.

Thousands of members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) will hold a rally outside Parliament to coincide with the strike.

Border Force staff at airports will strike over Christmas, while nurses will stop work next Thursday in separate disputes.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged people to rethink flying around Christmas as she warned of “undeniable, serious disruption” for thousands if strikes go ahead.

In an interview with broadcasters, she said: “It’s very regrettable that they have made this decision to potentially strike over critical times in the run up and following Christmas and the New Year.

Migrant crisis
Home Secretary Suella Braverman (Toby Melville/PA)

“If they go ahead with those strikes there will be undeniable, serious disruption caused to many thousands of people who have holiday plans.

“I really want to urge people who have got plans to travel abroad to think carefully about their plans because they may well be impacted.

“We’ve got plans in place that will involve, to a degree, bringing in some of our military colleagues to help us in a variety of roles.

“Ultimately, I’m not willing to compromise on security at the border, that’s the number one priority.

“That may well have an adverse impact on convenience for people, frankly, whether it’s the time they have to wait for flights, or departures, they may well be delayed on arrivals and various travel plans. Ultimately, security at the border is my number one non-negotiable priority.”

It is understood that officials from the Department of Health and NHS England are meeting on Thursday to discuss contingency plans for the health service during strike days.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said a meeting with ambulance employers on Thursday was “constructive and cordial”.

She added: “We discussed England-wide broad principles regarding the derogations for the ambulance service on days of industrial action, but the crucial discussions on the detail on how ambulance trusts will operate on a strike day will be discussed at a local level and life and limb cover will be provided on these days.”