Talks to avert a second nationwide railway strike collapsed in rancor as the two sides traded insults in a bitter war of words as millions of passengers faced another day of disruption.
In increasingly tense negotiations, the RMT chief has slammed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps for ‘wrecked negotiations’ in the dispute over wages, working conditions and proposed ‘modernisation’ plans for reduce costs after the pandemic.
Shapps said RMT’s claim was “a complete lie”, while Network Rail claimed the union had pulled out of the talks.
The rail industry told passengers to travel only if necessary on Thursday, as less than one in five trains in Britain are expected to run as 40,000 RMT members working for Network Rail and 13 train operating companies step up striking. Services will be sporadic and limited to mainlines and urban areas between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Drivers from the Aslef union will also join the strike on Thursday on the Greater Anglia network.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch blamed the Transport Secretary for the breakdown of the talks: “Grant Shapps has derailed these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw its letter threatening to lay off 2,900 of our members.
“Until the government releases Network Rail and the train operating companies, it will not be possible to reach a negotiated settlement.
“We will continue our industrial campaign until we achieve a negotiated settlement that provides job security and a wage increase to our members who are facing an escalating cost of living crisis.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This is a complete lie from the RMT and its general secretary. I have absolutely nothing to do with sending a letter from Network Rail, the employer, to the RMT – or any withdrawal request.
In a letter to RMT management on Monday, Network Rail said it would begin a formal process allowing for 1,800 redundancies from July 1, incorporating compulsory redundancies if necessary. He said he could no longer delay plans to reform his maintenance regimes.
Shapps added: ‘The RMT continues to shy away from the fact that the only people responsible for this week’s massive public disruption are them. I want to urge Mick Lynch and his members to stop wasting time making false claims in the media and get back to the negotiating table so that a deal can be struck.
A Network Rail spokesman said: ‘We are disappointed that the RMT has again chosen to walk away from negotiations without agreeing a deal. We remain available for interviews – day or night – and will do everything we can to avoid further disruption to our passengers.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson, representing rail operators, said: “We call on RMT leaders to keep talking so we can secure a long-term prosperous future for the railway and its workforce. work.”
The union rejected offers of pay rises of up to 3% from Network Rail and train operators, and said it wanted a cost-of-living settlement more closely linked to the RPI inflation measure , which reached 11.7% in May.
Merseyrail rail workers in the TSSA union voted to accept a 7.1% pay rise on Wednesday, and the RMT is believed to be seeking a similar offer across the country.
Although the government refused to get involved in the negotiations, saying it was up to the employers, the industry is currently funded by the Treasury. Downing Street said on Wednesday it would be “reckless” to raise public sector wages in line with inflation.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “It’s important to stress that this doesn’t mean we don’t want to reward public sector workers with a pay rise, we do, it’s just that we have to make sure we don’t do anything that has a knock-on impact that is fueling this global inflationary spiral that we can see.
The first day of the strike on Tuesday, which also coincided with a London Underground strike by 10,000 other RMT workers, saw relatively few passengers attempt to travel on the services that remained in operation, but crowded buses and roads blocked around the capital. Elsewhere, congestion appeared only slightly worse, with many people now able to work from home.
Services were also disrupted on Wednesday morning, between the first two of three days of strikes scheduled for this week, with a later start in many areas and around 60% of the normal schedule scheduled to take place during 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 to strike from the end of next week. The walkouts would join ongoing strikes in Yorkshire by Arriva drivers and depot workers, which have disrupted many services across the county for more than two weeks. More Arriva workers in the North West of England are being voted into a pay strike.