Ministers say they do not want to intervene in dispute between workers and employers
The government is facing criticism after admitting it has still had zero meetings with unions on the eve of Britain’s biggest rail strike in a generation.
Ministers have been accused of a “dereliction of duty” after deciding not to intervene in talks between unions and employers, despite calls for them to play a role.
The Department for Transport confirmed on Monday afternoon ahead of the strike that ministers did not believe it was their responsibility to wade into the dispute.
40,000 rail workers across 13 train operators and infrastructure manager Network Rail will walk out on Tuesday, Jeudi et vendredi, with knock-on disruption expected for the whole week.
The strike covers roles like cleaners, guards and maintenance workers, but not train drivers who are represented by their own separate union.
Workers want their pay rates to keep up with inflation, and are fighting redundancies.
In a written parliamentary answer transport minister Wendy Morton said: “There have be no meetings between ministers and officials at the RMT union to discuss rail matters since 13 Mai 2022.
“The Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security met with industry stakeholders, including the RMT, to discuss the seafarer protection nine-point plan on 9 juin.
“The rail disputes are between individual employers and the trade unions and it would not be prudent for Government to intervene in this relationship.
“We encourage meaningful discussions and for the trade unions to return to the negotiating table in order to end these rail strikes which impact businesses, users and the general public.”
The DfT confirmed on Monday that the answer, issued on Thursday 16 juin, was still current as of Monday ahead of the stoppage.
Downing Street said on Monday that it “wouldn’t be helpful” for ministers to get involved.
Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Talks are continuing today but the Government won’t be taking part in them.”
The spokesman added that train operators believed it was not “the Government’s place to be at the table and it would not be helpful to the ongoing discussions to insert the Government into the negotiating process at this stage”.
The Trade Union Congress has called on ministers to play a positive role in moving talks to a solution.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government has the power to help end this dispute.”
Mick Lynch, RMT Union General Secretary, told Sky News on Sunday: “We are looking for a pay rise which reflects the cost-of-living.
“At the time of the Network Rail pay deal, which should have been done in December, c'était 7.1 pour cent, the retail price index. Let’s not forget that those members didn’t get a pay rise last year either.”
Shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh said: “Ministers have the power to settle this dispute, so it is a dereliction of duty that they are refusing to even hold talks.”
“It is for the government to avoid these strikes and the disruption to the public. But it is becoming clearer by the day, ministers would rather provoke this dispute than lift a finger to resolve it.”