Grant Shapps ‘blocking deal’ to end rail strikes, says union boss Mick Lynch

Grant Shapps ‘blocking deal’ to end rail strikes, says union boss Mick Lynch
Transport secretary ‘flexing right-wing muscles’ to get job with Truss or Sunak, says RMT leader

Union boss Mick Lynch has warned the rail strikes could go on “indefinitely” as he accused Conservative transport secretary Grant Shapps of blocking a pay deal.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) leader said that he fears finding a solution will not be possible because of “political interference” as the latest strike caused widespread disruption for passengers.

Lynch claimed Shapps “doesn’t understand the job he’s got in front of him”, telling Times Radio: “He’s blocking a deal. So he needs to get out of the way or change his stance.”

He also accused the transport secretary of trying to “flex his right-wing muscles” to get a job under Tory leadership candidates Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss. “Grant Shapps is getting more and more hysterical.”

Shapps has to “appease two really right-wing [Tory] candidates,” Lynch told BBC Breakfast, before adding: “The politics of the Conservative leadership election, I fear, is stopping this dispute from being resolved.”

The union leader also said that his union have been working with Network Rail and the train operating companies on a pay deal but “the gap between us is still there”.

In a letter to Shapps, Lynch said the government had told companies “to hold down pay, cut thousands of safety critical rail jobs, introduce driver only trains and close ticket offices across the network”.

Lynch also claimed Shapps had threatened to make everyone redundant by issuing Section 188 letters. “I think he’s lost the plot slightly, and he needs to get back on track and enable a settlement to this dispute,” he said on Thursday morning.

The RMT leader added: “So I don’t know what Grant Shapps is up to. I don’t think the employers really know what he’s up to. And I don’t think the officials at the Department for Transport know what he’s up to.”

But the Department for Transport (DfT) said Lynch’s claims about Shapps were “entirely false”. A spokesperson said: “It is entirely false to claim the government is blocking negotiations.

The DfT added: “We have said from the outset we urge the unions and industry to agree a deal that is fair for railway staff, passengers and taxpayers.”

Lynch also cited “major problems” with the rail operators. “We haven’t got a pay deal, we haven’t got a guarantee of job security, and the train operating companies want to make massive detrimental changes to our pensions.”

The Network Rail chief Andrew Haines hit back at the RMT – claiming union leaders should put a pay offer to their members in a referendum. “The RMT have refused to put out offer to a referendum,” he said.

Haines told GMB that he found the impasse “frustrating”, and said does not believe rail workers are “clear on what they’re striking for” and argued that the problem is not with the government but the RMT.

“Mick mentioned pensions – that’s not an issue for Network Rail. He mentioned job security – we’ve given a guarantee of a job for every single person in Network Rail who wants a job affected by our proposals.”

The Network Rail boss also defended his salary of more than £500,000 in comparison to striking workers. “People are not going on strike over what I’m earning,” Haines said.

Network Rail boss defends £590,000 salary as train workers strike over pay

Only 20 per cent of train services are thought to be running on Thursday as around 45,000 rail workers at Network Rail (NR) and 14 train operators go on strike.

Network Rail, train companies, London Underground and buses in the capital will also be hit by walkouts in the next few days, causing travel chaos for workers, holidaymakers and fans going to events, with services affected until the weekend.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) said union leaders were “opting to inflict misery and disrupt the day-to-day lives of millions instead of working with industry to agree a deal that will bring our railways into the 21st century.”

They added: “All these strikes are doing is hurting those people the unions claim to represent, many of whom will again be out of pocket and forced to miss a day’s work.

Meanwhile, Lynch also warned that Britain could be brought by a standstill by a wave of strikes hitting “every sector of the economy” in the month ahead.

He stopped short of predicting a general strike, saying: “It’s not in my power, it’s up to the TUC”, but added: “What you are going to get is a wave of solidarity action, generalised strike action, synchronised action.”