Grant Shapps tells railways workers 'don't risk striking', ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports
The transport secretary has warned thousands of railway workers could lose their jobs over rail strikes ahead of mass industrial action planned for next week.
Grant Shapps issued a direct plea to those embarking on three days of walkouts scheduled for June 21, 23 and 25, stating they “risk striking yourselves out of a job”.
Half of Britain’s rail lines will be closed during the strikes, brought by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) over pay, jobs and conditions.
Transport for London (TfL) has also “strongly encouraged” people not to travel on London Underground on June 21 because of a 24-hour walkout by the RMT and Unite.
In a speech at a train depot in north London, Mr Shapps said the strikes would be “damaging” for railway workers and their families.
He told the audience: “These strikes are not only a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future, and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time, they are also an incredible act of self-harm by the union leadership.”
Mr Shapps said the walkouts risked causing "misery" for groups including workers, people heading to Glastonbury festival, and students sitting the 17 public exams over the strike period.
He said the railway was “in a fight” as it was competing against remote working and other forms of public and private transport.
“We’re going to endanger the jobs of thousands of rail workers,” he claimed.
“The last thing the railway should be doing right now. It’s alienating its passengers and the freight customers with long and damaging strikes.”
He also stated that the government plans to introduce legislation to enable the use of agency workers on the railways during industrial action “if the strike drags on”.
“People will be able to come where they have the appropriate level of skills, training and experience, and that is subject to a more straightforward secondary legislation process,” he said.
Trade Union Congress Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak has said that such a move would "undermine the right to strike and be extremely reckless".
How will the strike action impact different parts of the country?
Mr Shapps denied his comments on jobs were “a threat”, describing them as a “statement of the reality”, before urging the unions to “join us on that journey” to reform the network.
In response, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “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.
“Instead of playing to the gallery for his own personal political ambitions, Mr Shapps needs to act like a pragmatic transport secretary who is willing to meet with the union and help us reach a negotiated settlement.”
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Manuel Cortes leads the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, a union whose 6,000 strong membership will vote later this month on whether to strike.
“What we heard from the transport secretary looked very much like threats and intimidation of workers instead of constructive dialogue," Mr Cortes said.
“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.”
Mr Shapps said season ticket holders would be paid “full compensation on strike days” next week, and he had “moved to help make that an automatic process”.