RMT union boss says government 'leave the room, come back and put worse things on the table'

'They leave the room ... and they come back and they put worse things on the table than before the adjournment'

RMT union boss Mick Lynch has said the government is stopping employers from negotiating with strikers and "bargaining in a traditional, coherent way."

Speaking on ITV's Peston show, General Secretary Mr Lynch said during talks aimed at putting an end to the strike, government officials leave the room and come back with "worse things on the table."

"They leave the room, they make a phone call for 45 minutes, they talk to the DfT, they talk to the Treasury, and they come back and they put worse things on the table than before the adjournment," he said.

"That is happening every day that we go and meet them," adding it had happened on Wednesday morning.

He said employers were ready to make a deal with the union to end the strike, but the government was stopping that from happening.

"Well, we will do it with the employers and I think the employers are ready to do the deal with us," Mr Lynch said.

"It's the government that is stopping them negotiating with us freely and bargaining in a traditional, coherent way."

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Around 80% of Britain's railways are closing this week as members of the RMT at Network Rail and 13 train operators strike on Thursday and Saturday after the first day of action on Tuesday.

The union wants workers' wages to grow at a rate closer to that of inflation, which has soared to 9.1%, the highest rate in 40 years, as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.

The RMT says it has been unable to secure a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and there have been no acceptable pay proposals from employers.

Mr Lynch said Tory MPs who claimed the RMT refused to engage with them were "fabricating" this.

Asked if he had ever met Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who said earlier tonight that as far as he knew, they had never met, Mr Lynch said: "I met him on a Zoom call when he wanted something out of us about running the railway for Covid. I've met every transport minister apart from the aviation one.

"Yet they stand up in Parliament and say the RMT won't speak to them. Those are just fabrications, but this is a government that is not scared of fabrications…"

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Mr Lynch also accused the government of behaving in a similar way to Peter Hebblethwaite, the chief executive of P&O Ferries, who was widely condemned by politicians and trade unions alike after the company sacked 786 crew members without notice and replaced them with cheaper agency workers on March 17.

Mr Lynch said the government wanted some of its proposed redundancies, "so they can rinse out some of the existing staff on good contracts and get low-paid exploited people in."

But Tory MP Robert Jenrick, who was also appearing on Peston, denied Mr Lynch's claim, saying, "it's a very different situation to the P&O issue."

"That was a company breaching the law, treating its workers in an appalling manner, and the harm was quite clearly being done to the workers," Mr Jenrick said.

"Here, the unions are inconveniencing millions of people across the country, and having a completely unnecessary strike."

Peston airs on ITV at 10.45pm.