Talks to avoid a second national railroad strike erupted in resentment as the two sides exchanged insults in a bitter war of words as millions of passengers faced another day of disruption.
In increasingly tense negotiations, the head of the RMT attacked Transport Secretary Grant Shapps for “ruining the negotiations” over the proposed wage, working conditions and “modernization” plans to reduce costs. after the pandemic.
Shapps said RMT’s claim was “a total lie”, while Network Rail claimed the union had moved away from the talks.
The railway industry on Thursday asked passengers to travel only if necessary, when less than one in five trains in Britain is expected to run, as 40,000 RMT members working for Network Rail and 13 airline companies ‘train operation goes on strike. Train services will be sporadic and limited to main lines and urban areas between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
Aslef union leaders will also join the strike on the Greater England network on Thursday.
RMT Secretary-General Mick Lynch blamed Transport Secretary for the failure of the talks: “Grant Shapps has destroyed these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw its letter threatening the redundancy of 2,900 of our members.
“Until the government triggers Network Rail and the train companies, it will not be possible to reach a negotiated agreement.
“We will continue our industrial campaign until we reach a negotiated agreement that offers job security and a pay rise to our members to deal with the rising cost of living crisis.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This is a total lie from the RMT and its Secretary General. I had absolutely nothing to do with the issuance of a letter from Network Rail, the employer, to the RMT, nor with any request to withdraw it “.
In a letter to RMT’s management on Monday, Network Rail said it would begin a formal process allowing 1,800 layoffs from July 1, incorporating mandatory layoffs if necessary. He said he could not further delay plans to reform his maintenance regimes.
Shapps added: “The RMT continues to deviate from the fact that they are the only ones responsible for this week’s mass public disruption. I want to urge Mick Lynch and his members to stop wasting time making false statements to the media. communication and instead return to the negotiating table so that an agreement can be reached. “
PMQ: Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clash over train strikes – video
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are disappointed that the RMT has again chosen to move away from the negotiations without reaching an agreement. We remain available for talks, day or night, and will do everything possible to prevent further interruptions to our passengers “.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: “We urge RMT management to keep talking so that we can ensure a prosperous long-term future for the railway and its workforce.”
The union has rejected offers of wage increases of up to 3% by rail and train operators in the network and has indicated that it wants a cost-of-living agreement more closely linked to the RPI inflation measure, which goes reach 11.7% in May.
Merseyrail rail staff in the TSSA union on Wednesday voted in favor of a 7.1% pay rise and the RMT is believed to be looking for a similar offer across the country.
Although the government has refused to get involved in the negotiations, saying it was up to the business community, the industry is currently funded by the Treasury. Downing Street said Wednesday it would be “reckless” to raise public sector wages in line with inflation.
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The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “It is important to stress that this does not mean that we do not want to reward public sector workers with a salary increase, we do it, we just have to make sure that we do not do anything that has a on the impact of this global inflationary spiral that has the potential to be seen. “
The first day of the strike on Tuesday, which also coincided with a strike on the London Underground by 10,000 other RMT employees, saw relatively few passengers attempt to travel to services that remained in operation, but buses piled up and roads blocked. around the capital. Elsewhere, congestion seemed only slightly worse, with many people now able to work from home.
Services were also cut off on Wednesday morning, between the first two days of the strike scheduled for this week, with a later start in many areas and about 60% of the normal schedule for the day.
However, Great Western Railway said it had been able to operate more “Glastonbury specials” to accommodate people traveling to the festival than in 2019, with nine departures from London Paddington to Castle Cary on Wednesday and five more scheduled for tomorrow’s strike.
Meanwhile, Stagecoach bus workers in Merseyside have voted in favor of going on strike from the end of next week. The departures would be joined by ongoing strikes in Yorkshire by Arriva drivers and depot workers, who have stopped many services across the county for more than two weeks. More Arriva staff in the North West of England are voting for a pay strike.