Leaders of the two main rail unions have accused the government of preventing operators from reaching agreements on pay.
Eddie Dempsey, senior deputy general secretary of the RMT union, and Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, were questioned by MPs on the Transport Committee.
Mr Dempsey said rail workers were being used as a “political football”. He accused ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, of making “inflammatory comments”.
He said: “The government must have thought it was a good opportunity to pick a fight and paint us as enemies.
“Certainly we have made some progress at Network Rail, unlike the rail companies.
“It’s a shame that Grant Shapps wasn’t called in here to answer some questions about this, because the people on the other side of the table that we’re dealing with are telling us that they see themselves as brokers, not negotiators.
“They tell us that they have a mandate that they have to renew. They often have to leave the room to talk to their ministerial people before they can continue the conversation with us.
“We’re in a room with people who can’t make decisions.”
The strike by RMT members working for Network Rail and 13 rail operators brought much of the rail system to a standstill on June 21, 23 and 25, with disruption also in the days following each stoppage.
Further protests will be discussed later – possibly coordinated with the Aslef Machinists’ Union.
At the same committee hearing with MPs, Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, accused the government of “cheating”.
The leader of the machinist union said: “We believe that we have free collective bargaining. Please allow us to negotiate. Traditionally in the industry it finds its level, and we find a solution.
“The government does not allow companies to talk to us.
“This government and the employers are to blame for the strike, not the workers.
“Wherever the DfT is not involved, we can reach communities.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: “Unions and employers, not the government, must engage in meaningful negotiations on upgrading practices to avoid damaging strikes and prevent rail chaos.
“The state is not an employer here. In the past, when there were strikes by firefighters and postal workers, the Labor government of the day said it was a matter between employers and unions, and we continue to take that position.
“It is important that ministers stay close to the current situation in relation to the negotiations to ensure that rail staff, passengers and taxpayers get a fair deal.
“The industry offers daily negotiations with the trade unions. We call on the unions to stay at the negotiating table.”
At the committee hearing, the RMT’s Mr Dempsey also told MPs that Network Rail’s latest pay proposal was “based on removing a third of the maintenance front as well as halving scheduled maintenance”.
He said: “We will end up with an industry that is dependent on overtime and sub-contractors. We’re going back to the Railtrack days.”
Several fatal rail accidents occurred during the ownership of Railtrack, the private sector predecessor of Network Rail.
Network Rail disputes the union’s claims, saying it intends to cut maintenance by 20 per cent and has offered a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies in its latest pay offers.
The infrastructure provider claims its reforms will reduce overtime and the use of subcontractors.
Mr Whelan condemned the Government’s plans to allow employers to bring in agency workers to replace strikers, calling them a “scab statute” and warned the policy could create a lasting divide.
He said: “The real problem in an industry like ours is that they still don’t talk to the people who broke in 1955, in 1982.
“Of course, mange-related births can only work to treat mange.
Committee chairman Hugh Merriman said it was an “emotional” and “frightening” deadline.
“If any sane person heard what you said, when you used the term ‘scab’ about four or five times, I would take it as very scary.”
Rail unions accuse ministers of blocking pay deals
Source link Rail unions accuse ministers of blocking pay deals