Scotland rail strikes: Union clashes with UK Government over strikes before Christmas

Rail union chief Mick Lynch has been urged by ministers not to “hold the country to ransom” with strikes ahead of Christmas as he blamed the UK Government for failing to avert the action.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) general secretary said on Tuesday the unions had a duty to take co-ordinated action in response to a “generalised attack on working people”. He confirmed there would be greater disruption on the rails on Christmas Eve because of a walkout from 6pm until 6am on December 27 following two 48-hour strikes next week that will also impact Scotland.

Talks with the Rail Delivery Group over the long-running dispute on pay, jobs and conditions will still take place on Tuesday.

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Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused the “militant” Government of presiding over a “complete shambles” on the railways as she backed the workers’ right to strike. But Government minister Nick Gibb argued the RMT’s “very disappointing decision” came after they were offered a “very good pay deal” of 8 per cent over two years.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on the picket line outside London Euston train station. Picture: PA

“So I think the unions really should call off this strike,” he said. “It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations.

“We would urge the unions to talk to employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer to Christmas.”

Mr Lynch insisted he did not want strikes to go ahead before Christmas, but argued his members were being forced into action by the Government not allowing train operators a proper mandate to negotiate on pay and conditions.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We regret the inconvenience that we are causing, but this inconvenience is being caused by the Government who are running the playbook and the strategy for the companies and directing what’s going on. They’ve held back even these paltry offers to the last minute, so they know it’s very difficult to deal with these offers.”

Mr Lynch said there was always a wind-down of trains on Christmas Eve, but, pressed if there would be earlier disruption because of the action, he said “yes there will be”.

“They will run up until the evening time,” he said. “We don’t want this to happen at Christmas.

“If we don’t respond, they will just assume the dispute is over and they’ve got their way, so we have to respond to that. I hope the companies change their positions before the action takes place on December 13 and we can cancel the action – but I’ve been hoping for that all the summer.”

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He argued wages are being lowered against soaring inflation, which passed 11 per cent, while conditions are being “ripped up”. “It would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in response to those attacks,” he told Today.

Ms Rayner argued striking workers were not taking action at a “drop of a hat”, saying they would “lose their pay at a time when they will need it most” because of the action.

Strikes are set to hit 14 train companies next week as the RMT has recommended its members should reject the latest offer from Network Rail.

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