Mick Lynch defends Christmas strikes as he says 'every day is a crisis' on railways
The union leader refused to call off the strikes that threaten to cripple rail services over the festive period
Mick Lynch said "every day is a crisis in our railways" as he demanded the government resolves the bitter dispute over railway workers' pay, jobs and conditions which threatens to cripple services in the run up to Christmas.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union's general secretary had a first meeting with the new Transport Secretary Mark Harper on Thursday, describing it as a "positive" exchange.
The union leader said afterwards that he did not expect Mr Harper “to be at the table” but had been promised a letter setting out his position.
Mr Lynch had asked him to set out in writing what authority the train operators have in the dispute with unions.
He told reporters that the RMT was no closer to reaching a settlement as there is still not a "reasonable offer" that can be put to his members.
ITV News' Dani Sinha reports on the 'significant meeting' between Mr Lynch and the transport secretary
It means that the strikes - planned for December 13, 14, 16 and 17 and on January 3, 4, 6 and 7 - are still scheduled to go ahead, which threatens travel chaos over the festive period.
"We have also not had any strikes since the beginning of October," Mr Lynch told reporters outside the Department for Transport following the meeting.
"So there has been ample time for this lot to get their act together, along with their industry partners, as they describe them, people that they contract to run the railways, and they have done nothing."
"They have got to assert themselves as an independent department and get to grips with the crisis that has been created in our industry. Not just on strike days but every day is a crisis in our railways."
He added: “If we call off the strikes, we’ll never get a settlement … my members won’t forgive me... I’ve given a commitment to my members, until we get a tangible outcome that they can consider the action will remain on.”
The transport secretary said he will "consider" setting up a liaison group at ministerial level so the industry and trade unions can speak with them about how a settlement can come about, Mr Lynch said.
He had previously accused the government of blocking a deal over the weekend, claiming the "most senior" people in his industry told him they were forbidden from making an offer.
Pressed on whether he asked Mr Harper directly if ministers blocked a deal over the weekend, the union leader said: "I did put that to him. I’ve told him that the employers are telling us that the Department for Transport are the blockage. "He is saying that that’s not quite the case but I will find out. So somebody’s got to find out who is preventing proper negotiations leading to a proper settlement. "I don’t care if we ever find out as long as we get a way forward."
Following the meeting, Mr Harper said talks with Mr Lynch were "constructive" and involved an "open and honest conversation about the serious challenges facing the railways". “We have common ground - we both want the dispute to end and we both want a thriving railway which delivers for passengers and workers alike," he said.
"To achieve this though, we need to work together, across the entire industry to ensure our railway industry thrives. “There is a deal to be done, and I believe we will get there – I want to facilitate the RMT and the employers to reach an agreement and end the dispute for the benefit of the travelling public.”
Mr Harper had earlier said that “reform is vital” as he urged “all trade union leaders to get back around the table with employers” to avert the fresh round of rail strikes.
He told MPs he “will do everything I can to end these damaging and unnecessary strikes” ahead of the planned meetings with trade union leaders.
The transport secretary has said that any pay increases for rail workers would not match inflation - currently at 11.1% - due to the other pressures the government is facing.
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