Richard Madeley ripped into the head of the RMT Union over planned summer strikes (Picture: Good Morning Britain/ITV)
A union boss was told his hands are ‘around the windpipe of the country’ ahead of one of the biggest rail strikes in modern UK history.
Yesterday RMT members from Network Rail and 15 train operators agreed to walk out this summer over pay, jobs and work conditions.
With signalling staff signed up to join the action, as many as four fifths of services could be axed, including all early morning and late night trains.
After two years of pay freezes, rail union leaders want staff pay rises in line with the Retail Prices Index rate of inflation, which is currently 11.1%.
A survey last month showed UK employers are on average offering pay settlements worth increases of 3.2% for the private sector.
The Chartered Management Institute found that public sector workers were being offered 2.4% more on average.
Plans for nationwide walkouts have fuelled fears of a ‘summer of discontent’, with fears that fewer freight trains supplying power plants could lead to blackouts.
Nationwide walkouts have fuelled fears of a ‘summer of discontent’ (Picture: REX/Shutterstock)
Ministers are worried about the prospect of empty supermarket shelves and fuel shortages, and the government is already drawing up plans to soften the blow.
Laying into RMT chief Mick Lynch on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, presenter Richard Madeley accused his guest of an ‘abuse of power’.
‘You have tremendous power. I mean, you really do have your hands around the windpipe of the country in terms of rail travel, and it’s an abuse of that power,’ he said.
But Mr Lynch replied to Mr Madeley: ‘It’s not an abuse of power, it’s a right to take industrial action.
‘We have to jump through a lot of hoops. We’ve got the most stringent anti-trade union laws of any Western democracy.
‘We’ve met and smashed all the thresholds. Our members are ordinary men and women right across this country.
‘They want to secure their jobs. This is also about compulsory redundancies, the lowering of safety standards on our railway, and the ripping up of our terms and conditions.’
Which train companies could be impacted by the RMT strike?
RMT members from 14 organisations have voted to take part in a massive strike over pay, jobs and conditions this summer.
If it goes ahead, it’s expected to be the biggest walkout of its kind in modern history and could result in empty shelves in supermarkets.
Network Rail staff, who are responsible for signalling, are taking part, as well as workers from these 13 different franchise operators:
Cross Country Trains
East Midlands Railway
Great Western Railway
South Eastern Railway
South Western Railway
GTR (including Gatwick Express)*
Avanti West Coast
West Midlands Trains
*Voted against strike but in favour of more limited industrial action.
More: Good Morning Britain
And Eddie Dempsey, the lead officer on Network Rail negotations for RMT, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We don’t think it’s unreasonable. What we’re asking for is a pay rise. Some of our members are in the third year of a pay freeze this year.
‘We’re asking for a no compulsory redundancy guarantee. We’re not saying that there’s going to be no jobs lost in the industry, we just want that managed in a way that protects people, gives people security.’
Presenter Nick Robinson said the median average pay of RMT members is £46,000.
But Mr Dempsey replied: ‘Plenty of our members are on far lower than that, most of our membership is on around £23,000.’
The RMT’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which would bring huge parts of the network to a standstill.
Mr Madeley accused Mick Lynch of an ‘abuse of power’ (Picture: Good Morning Britain)
The RMT is demanding a pay rise in line with RPI inflation after two years of pay freezes (Picture: PA)
The union said it was the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation in the 1990s.
A walkout by Network Rail signallers will have a significant impact on services.
It is possible that trains will only run for part of the day, such as from 7am to 7pm and only on main lines.
Services could be reduced to around a fifth of the normal weekday timetable.
If strikes go ahead, they would cost the rail industry around £30million each day, according to sources.
The union says Network Rail intends to cut at least 2,500 maintenance jobs as part of a £2billion reduction in spending on the network, while staff at train companies have been subject to pay freezes, threats to jobs and attacks on their terms and conditions.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: ‘The RMT has jumped the gun here as everyone loses if there’s a strike.
‘We know our people are concerned about job security and pay. As a public body we have been working on offering a pay increase that taxpayers can afford, and we continue to discuss this with our trade unions.
‘It’s not an abuse of power, it’s a right to take industrial action,’ Mr Lynch replied (Picture: Good Morning Britain)
Workers from Network Rail and 15 separate companies operating franchises around the country are backing the walkout (Picture: PA)
‘We urge the RMT to sit down with us and continue to talk, not walk, so that we can find a compromise and avoid damaging industrial action.
‘We are at a key point in the railway’s recovery from the pandemic. The taxpayer has provided the industry with £16 billion worth of additional life support over the last two years and that cannot continue.
‘Any industrial action now would be disastrous for our industry’s recovery and would hugely impact vital supply and freight chains. It would also serve to undermine our collective ability to afford the pay increases we want to make.’
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is hugely disappointing and premature that the RMT is calling for industrial action before even entering discussions.
‘Taxpayers across the country contributed £16 billion to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring not a single worker lost their job.
‘The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25% down, and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs. Train travel for millions more people is now a choice, not a necessity. Strikes stop our customers choosing rail, and they might never return.
‘We urge the RMT to reconsider and accept the invitation of industry talks, so we can find a solution that delivers for workers, passengers and taxpayers alike.’
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