“Bully-boy tactics will not wash,” transport unions warn Grant Shapps

Elliot Chappell
© Mark D Bailey/Shutterstock.com

Transport trade unions have rejected the “bully-boy tactics” displayed by Grant Shapps today as the government minister warned that thousands of railway workers could lose their jobs if they take industrial action this summer.

Commenting on the speech by Shapps, in which the minister said the railways were battling for “survival” after Covid and that strikes could “lose thousands of railway jobs” by driving ticket holders away, Manuel Cortes said the remarks “looked very much like threats and intimidation of workers instead of constructive dialogue”.

“If this Tory government was at all serious about stopping what looks like a summer of discontent on our railways Shapps would have been clear in his speech that they are prepared to negotiate with us and sister unions,” the general secretary of the TSSA argued this afternoon.

“Sadly, and perhaps predictably, what we heard from the Transport Secretary looked very much like threats and intimidation of workers instead of constructive dialogue. Bully-boy tactics will not wash with our union when the truth is our members are fighting for their jobs, pay and for a safe railway fit for the future.”

The TSSA is currently in dispute with Network Rail and train operators over pay, job security and terms and conditions. The transport union is holding strike ballots in: Avanti West Coast; Cross Country; East Midlands Railway; West Midlands Trains; Network Rail; LNER; Northern; and C2C.

Shapps’ speech comes ahead of planned strike action by the RMT. More than 40,000 RMT members plan to walk out in the industrial action on June 21st, 23rd and 25th. Network Rail has said that half of all lines will be closed and that the services that do run will finish earlier, running between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned that “the threats made by Grant Shapps today to railway workers livelihoods and their right to strike are disgraceful and will make RMT members even more fiercely determined to win this dispute”.

Network Rail has proposed cutting 2,500 jobs as part of a £2bn reduction in spending with the job cuts including workers who maintain tracks, signals and overhead lines. The trade union has said its members have also been subject to pay freezes and changes to terms and conditions.

Shapps branded Lynch “desperate” for asking to engage in talks with the government earlier this week, arguing that the request was not in “good faith”. He said the strike will “cause misery” and appealed to rail workers he claimed are “less militant” than their trade unions and general secretaries.

Labour’s Louise Haigh told parliament on Wednesday that it is “impossible to escape the conclusion” that ministers would prefer to “provoke the dispute” with the railway union RMT and “play political games rather than resolve it”.

“On the eve of the biggest rail dispute in a generation, taking place on his watch, it is right to say that neither the Transport Secretary nor his ministers have held any talks with the unions and the industry to try and settle the dispute,” she said.

The Shadow Transport Secretary described the lack of engagement with unions shown by Shapps to reach a resolution as “pathetic” and told MPs that the train operators have not been given their negotiating mandate by the Department for Transport.

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