Union chief hints more strikes to come this year as he accuses Grant Shapps of ‘talking nonsense’

Union chief hints more strikes to come this year as he accuses Grant Shapps of ‘talking nonsense’

Union chief Mick Lynch said he could not rule out further strike action later this year if an agreement is not found with Network Rail.

As rail strikes crippled the country for the third day this week, Mr Lynch said “there is a long way to go” until a deal is a agreed.

While he would not give dates as to when further strikes may take place, he said the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) would not “hesitate” in using more industrial action to defend its members.

He told Sky News: “We have not named dates. We will review where we are in discussions next week and then we will decide if we need to take more action.

“We won’t hesitate to use more industrial action if we can’t reach an agreement or if the companies carry through their threats to make people redundant.”

The union has warned its members face cuts to benefits and pensions under new plans proposed by Network Rail.

The RMT says Network Rail has offered them a 2-3 per cent pay rise which has been rejected. Instead, the union is seeking a pay rise in line with inflation, which stands at nine per cent and is expected to increase to 11 per cent by the end of the year.

Modernising the network has been one of the other focal points during talks between Network Rail and the union.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Lynch accused Grant Shapps of “talking nonsense” after he described outdated working practices across the railway industry.

As the RMT led the third day of rail strikes on Saturday, the Transport Secretary said the practices “aren’t just archaic, they are hugely damaging to commuters’ daily lives and the economy, causing people to be late for work or miss hospital appointments”.

In one of the tweets, he said “Sunday working laws” had not been updated since 1919, meaning that for some train companies, “Sundays aren’t part of the working week and they have to rely on the ‘good will’ of employees to work them”.

Mr Shapps also criticised maintenance laws, saying that “the rostering of individuals or training of multiskilled workers isn’t allowed.

He added: “Maintenance teams aren’t allowed to cross one geographical boundary to another, even neighbouring ones to carry out vital repairs. It means a team based at Euston wouldn’t be able to walk 500 yards to Kings Cross to fix an urgent points failure.”

Responding to the comments, Mr Lynch said the Transport Secretary was “completely ignorant of how the railways work”.

He described Mr Shapps’ statement that Sunday working practices had not been updated since 1919 as “false”, adding: “In many companies we have agreements that Sunday forms part of the working week.”

He also described the allegation that teams do not share vans as an “utter fallacy”.

“Maintenance workers can work across boundaries as instructed by the company, but they only work across railway regions in emergencies. This is because the engineering assets in regions which derive from the original railway company regions can be very different and the staff may not have the training or competencies to deal with those engineering assets.

“This is both a safety and engineering standards issue, and Network Rail has never put a proposal to RMT to work across regions and many of their maintenance managers are actually opposed to this idea.”