Rail strikes: Union boss urges government to 'tone down rhetoric'

By Natasha Preskey
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

Watch: One passenger says he thought about catching a flight instead of a train

The RMT union has urged the government to "tone down the rhetoric", as travel disruption continues on the third day of rail strikes.

Its general secretary Mick Lynch called on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to engage in talks.

Mr Shapps has accused the union of "damaging people's lives".

Rail passengers across Britain are facing another day of severely restricted services with around 20% of trains running.

Mr Lynch said negotiations with Network Rail and train companies would continue on Monday, but described the road to a resolution as "very steep".

Writing on Twitter on Saturday, Mr Shapps said the rail industry must "move with the times" and "banish the outdated working practices that are holding it back".

The RMT union, whose members include everyone from guards and signallers to catering staff and cleaners, wants a written guarantee from the rail operator that no compulsory redundancies will be made as part of planned reforms.

Mr Lynch said negotiations could then move on to a pay deal and working conditions and the dispute could be settled.

On Saturday he again urged Mr Shapps to engage in talks saying: "He needs to tone down the rhetoric and get on with his job, which is to settle this dispute."

Earlier in the week the transport secretary insisted the dispute must be resolved between the union and rail bosses, saying calls for government involvement were a "stunt" by the union.

Seaside destinations hit

Meanwhile, Network Rail says there are 2,000 vacancies in the company, and it does not expect to make anyone redundant who does not want to go.

But it says it cannot know how many jobs might be affected until planned reforms to how the railways are maintained, are put in place.

Several seaside destinations have no services, including Bournemouth, Blackpool, Margate, Llandudno, and Skegness. And no trains are running in Cornwall.

There are several big events in London over the weekend, including a sell-out Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park and Ed Sheeran at Wembley.

Services across England, Wales and Scotland are primarily restricted to main lines, and those are only open between 07:30 and 18:30 BST.

Passengers with pre-booked tickets are able to travel on Sunday or Monday instead, or claim a refund.

'Our absent wedding guests show just how important rail workers are'

Image source, Sam Nash

When Sam Nash, 32, and Jessica Heywood, 28, got married in Sheffield on Saturday morning, six people from their already modest guest list of almost 50 weren't there.

The couple found out on Friday night that some close friends would not make the ceremony due to the rail strikes, Sam says.

The copywriter and his new wife, a gallery assistant, were "really disappointed" about their depleted guest list. Despite this, Sam says he and Jessica support the walkouts, and that they have friends working in rail who are also on strike.

He says their experience "underlines why the strikes are happening and why they're important".

"It really highlights that we as a country really rely on rail workers to connect us to the people who matter to us," he says.

Mr Lynch said the RMT would continue "working constructively with the companies to strike a deal".

As well as assurances of no compulsory redundancies, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is looking for a pay rise of at least 7%.

The union says an offer of a 2% pay rise, with the possibility of a further 1%, was "unacceptable", pointing to the rising cost of living.

Network Rail said it would consider a pay rise above 3%, but only if the union agreed to modernise working practices.

Media caption,

What's caused the rail strikes? Ros Atkins explains