Transport Secretary working to ‘encourage’ deal aimed at avoiding rail strikes

Transport Secretary working to ‘encourage’ deal aimed at avoiding rail strikes

The Transport Secretary has said he is trying to “encourage” a deal between employers and trade unions on reforming the rail industry and bringing an end to the strikes.

A number of unions have announced strikes and other forms of industrial action across the rail network in December, set to bring crippling periods of disruption to the network in the run-up to Christmas.

Mark Harper said an agreement to “hammer out a deal on reform of the industry” would benefit rail users and train staff, during a visit to a HS2 site in Warwickshire on Thursday.

His comments come after the General Secretary of the biggest rail workers union the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Mick Lynch, described the Government’s “lack or urgency” as “astonishing”, with fresh strikes due to start in the next fortnight.

Mr Harper was taking a first look at a newly bored mile long HS2 tunnel underneath ancient woodland at Long Itchington, Warwickshire, when asked by reporters about negotiations with unions aimed at avoiding strikes.

HS2 project
Transport Secretary Mark Harper (Joe Giddens/PA)

He said: “We’ve got problems with industrial relations at the moment and I’m working hard with my ministerial team – with the rail minister – to try and encourage the trade unions and the employers, Network Rail and the train operating companies to hammer out a deal on reform.

“To reform how we modernise the way the railways work.

“That generates some savings which can then be used to offer a decent pay-rise to the people that work in the industry, so that we can start improving services for passengers today.”

Mr Harper added: “I’ve met two of the (union) leaders. I met Frank Ward from the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association), I met Mick Lynch, last week – I had a very positive, constructive meeting with both of them.”

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

He said: “I wrote to Mick Lynch following my meeting, he’s going to be having a follow-up meeting – he and the employers – with the rail minister tomorrow.

“We’re really trying to encourage both sides.

“It’s not my job to do the negotiating but it is my job to work to help the two sides come together, hammer out a deal on reform of the industry, workforce reform, so we can improve what gets delivered.

“That generates financial savings which can then be shared between the taxpayer and the people who work in the industry and then we can start improving the service for passengers.”

Mr Harper’s comments follow a letter by Mr Lynch, to business groups and the hospitality industry impacted by the strike, in which he wrote of the Department for Transport’s offer of a meeting on Friday.

In the correspondence, Mr Lynch added: “Whilst I have accepted the offer, this lack of urgency from the Government is astonishing.

“By this Friday more than a week will have passed since I met the Secretary of State without an offer being put on the table.

“Time is running out.”