Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting has said that if he were a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), he would have voted to go on strike to “defend my job, terms and conditions”.
Asked during an appearance on BBC Question Time on Thursday evening whether he supports the industrial action proposed by the RMT, the Shadow Health Secretary told viewers he would “prefer they weren’t going ahead”.
But Streeting added: “Look, put it this way, if I were a member of the RMT and my jobs were at risk like this then I would be voting to go on strike and I would be voting to defend my job, terms and conditions.
“If I were a government minister right now, it’s not my job to be on the picket line, it’s not my job to be condemning unions – it’s my job to solve the problem, to get people around the table, to make sure passengers aren’t inconvenienced.”
Railway workers will walk out in a three-day strike later this month. More than 40,000 staff from Network Rail and 13 train operators will take part in what the union has described as “the biggest dispute on the network since 1989”.
Streeting described industrial action as a “pain in the backside when it happens” but added that it is “nonsense” to “pit worker against worker and say that it’s transport workers versus nurses or teachers versus doctors”.
“Whether you’re earning the minimum wage, £20,000, £30,000, £40,000, if your job is at risk and you think you’re about to lose your job overnight, who could go like that without their job overnight? Of course they’re fighting for their terms and conditions,” he said.
“[The RMT] do understand that the job structure in the railways is going to change – not least because of technology – of course they do. But you need a fair transition, fair compensation for workers, reallocating people where they can be from the jobs they’re doing now to the jobs they will need to them to do.
“That’s the negotiation to be had. And the government should be getting people around the table to help negotiate a solution.”
The union has said Network Rail and the operators have subjected staff to multiyear pay freezes and are progressing plans to cut thousands of jobs. The RMT has warned that the proposed job losses will make the railways unsafe.
“We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1pc and rising,” general secretary Mick Lynch said earlier this week.
“Rail companies are making at least £500m a year in profits, whilst fat cat rail bosses have been paid millions during the Covid pandemic. This unfairness is fuelling our members anger and their determination to win a fair settlement.
“RMT is open to meaningful negotiations with rail bosses and ministers, but they will need to come up with new proposals to prevent months of disruption on our railways.”
“If I were a member of the RMT then I would be voting to go on strike and I’d be voting to defend my job’s terms and conditions”
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) June 9, 2022