Shapps spent more time on leadership race than rail strikes, Haigh says

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Louise Haigh has accused Grant Shapps of spending more time on Rishi Sunak’s “doomed” Tory leadership bid than he has seeking to resolve the rail strikes amid further industrial action by railway workers across the country.

Approximately one in five trains across half of the rail network are thought to have been running today as members of the rail, maritime and transport workers’ union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) went on strike.

Haigh said today that the Transport Secretary has “the power to settle this dispute” and that it is therefore “utterly shameful he is refusing to do his job and enter talks to end this disruption”.

“The Transport Secretary has spent more time on his own doomed leadership bid, than he has resolving these strikes. This hapless Conservative government is so mired in scandal and chaos, they refuse to do the job they’re paid for and sort this dispute out,” the Shadow Transport Secretary argued.

The Tory minister had said earlier today that he will never intervene in talks between Network Rail, train operating companies and union bosses to try to resolve the dispute. He claimed the strikes were a “game by the unions”.

Shapps was instead out on the morning media round today defending his ally Sunak, who had been accused of a “screeching U-turn” on tax cuts after he promised to scrap VAT on energy bills if Tory members elect him leader of their party.

The TUC accused Shapps on Monday of preventing negotiations from taking place that could avert strike action. According to legal advice commissioned by the TUC, the Transport Secretary has “legal power to give overall direction of how the dispute is handled” and that power is reinforced by “strong financial rewards and sanctions”.

The advice stated that the companies operating train services are not free to agree terms and conditions with their employees and it is the Transport Secretary who has “very extensive powers” over what can be agreed between them and unions.

Announcing the latest strike action, Mick Lynch his members were “more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions” and argued that “Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new”.

“In fact, Network Rail have upped the ante threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work, if we did not withdraw our planned strike action,” the RMT general secretary added.

“RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith, but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone. The government need to stop their interference in this dispute so the rail employers can come to a negotiated settlement with us.”

Confirming the strike action taken by TSSA members at Avanti West Coast today, Manuel Cortes declared that members of the union are “facing a fourth year of a real-terms pay cut while bills for essentials are spiralling”.

“Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport need to make a reasonable offer on pay and job security – either by coming to the table themselves or allowing employers to negotiate freely. The string pulling and blocking negotiations must stop,” the general secretary warned.

80% of train services were stopped during three days of strike action by the RMT in June. General secretary Mick Lynch praised the “fantastic” turnout of members and said they had “exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise”.

Further strikes are planned by the RMT and TSSA on August 18th and 20th, with the RMT also announcing action on the London Underground on August 19th. Members of the train drivers’ union ASLEF are scheduled to go on strike on July 30th, with further action on August 13th announced today.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “We’ve been forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the Tory government.”

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