Rail strikes: Vaughan Gething accuses UK Government of pouring 'petrol on flames' of action

Vaughan Gething said that while he supports the right of workers to strike, “the Welsh Government is very clear that we don't want the industrial action to take place - neither does the RMT." Credit: PA

Wales’ Economy Minister says UK Government ministers have poured “petrol on the flames” of today’s rail strikes and are taking a “really unpleasant relish” in the dispute behind the action.

The rail union RMT isn’t in dispute with Transport for Wales nor the Welsh Government but the train track and many of services which operate in Cardiff are affected by the strikes.

Speaking at a Welsh Government media briefing, Vaughan Gething said that while he supports the right of workers to strike, “the Welsh Government is very clear that we don't want the industrial action to take place - neither does the RMT."

"If this dispute were taking place in Wales, I do not think we'd have reached this point because we do have an entirely different model."

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch on a picket line outside Euston station in London. Credit: PA

He added that in previous pay negotiations and disputes, "We've been involved in promoting partnership not promoting conflict. Sadly, the UK Government has chosen to promote conflict.

"Now I support the right of workers to organise in trade unions I support the right for workers to take industrial action. That is always a last resort. But actually the way to resolve this matter is not to have more petrol on the flames, which is the approach of Grant Shapps and others in the UK Government.

"The way to resolve this is to get people back around the negotiating table and to allow people to negotiate and let's not forget this is an industry where half a billion pounds of profit was generated last year."

Asked if he were worried about the prospect of future strikes as other sectors try to negotiate pay rises, he said: “Of course I'm concerned about future action.

"For those of you who are watching you know if people take industrial action really is a last resort because you ended up losing a day's pay. If you take that action, I would want to see an approach that allows settlements to be reached through negotiation not having artificial barriers in the way of that.

On Monday, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, called for “public-sector pay discipline” and “collective society-wide responsibility” in order to prevent a 1970s-style wage-price spiral.

Vaughan Gething said that that approach will lead to difficult pay negotiations in devolved areas such as education and health.

"I was concerned when the chief secretary to the Treasury yesterday said that there wouldn't be the ability to match inflation in pay in those pay reviews and negotiations that are due to take place.

"I just think that when there's so much that is going to be difficult for the future of the country. So when that is in the UK government's gift and ability to do something about it, they could and should spend more time on doing something to resolve problems, rather than see them carry on and stoke the flames into the future.

"Here in Wales will continue to have an open approach with trade union partners, businesses and public services will be entirely open about the budget available to us and what that means for the negotiations that will take place but the future looks very difficult. And that is a future that has been deliberately created by the UK Government.”

The Welsh Conservatives have condemned the strikes. The party’s Shadow transport minister, Natasha Asghar, said: "Whilst I support workers’ right to strike, this rail walkout is set to cause huge disruption, not just across Wales but the rest of the UK.

"Without a doubt the railway forms essential connectivity for people up and down the country, and therefore I hope that the unions can abandon the working practices of the 1950s, get round the table and use the changes in practices to give the staff a pay rise.

"The disruption caused by these strikes emphasises the need for the railways to bring in minimum service requirements which would insulate networks from complete shutdown and minimise disruption to people’s lives.

"In the meantime, it is absolutely paramount that Transport for Wales pulls out all the stops to put on alternatives in a bid to minimise disruption to people across Wales."

'Get around the negotiating table now'

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats blamed the approach of the UK Government.

She said: "The response from the UK Government to the threat of industrial action simply hasn’t been good enough. The Conservative Government needs to get around the negotiating table now and sort this out now."

Later in First Minister’s Questions, Mark Drakeford said that members of his Labour group in the Senedd are free to join picket lines if they wish.

He was asked by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price if he backed UK Labour leader Keir Starmer’s order to his frontbenchers not to take part in picketing.

The Welsh Labour leader said “no inhibition exists on members of my group demonstrating the support for the trade union movement. Keir Starmer is in a very different position. If he were to sanction that the story would never, ever be, would it, about support for the trade union movement. It would be the Tories succeeding in their wish to portray this as somehow an example of the country returning to days which had been left far behind.

"So in our context, where we have a partnership approach with our trade unions, where we don't have a dispute with our trade unions, of course, members of the Labour Party here in Wales are able to demonstrate their support for our trade union colleagues, but we operate in a different context. And we come to different conclusions for very good reasons.”