Rail strike called under 'false pretences' by RMT's '1970s union baron' boss, says Shapps

21 June 2022, 08:31 | Updated: 21 June 2022, 10:50

By Sophie Barnett

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told LBC this week's crippling rail strike has been called under "false pretences" and RMT's boss Mick Lynch is determined to turn himself into a "1970s union baron".

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast as the biggest rail strike in three decades gets underway, the Transport Secretary slammed the "militant" union for making staff worry about compulsory redundancies.

He claimed the RMT is calling its members out on strike under "false pretences" and accused Mick Lynch, the union's general secretary, of wanting to transform himself into one of the "1970s union barons".

He told Nick: "I can see what's happening here, their leader says he is nostalgic for the days of union powers and he's determined to turn himself back into one of those 1970s union barons."

Mr Shapps said it's true things are tight following the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic but claimed railway workers are relatively "well-paid" compared to other public sector workers, such as nurses.

Read more: UK grinds to a halt as biggest rail strikes in 30 years begin

Read more: Everything you need to know about this week's rail strikes

He also accused the RMT - which is asking for a seven per cent pay rise and no extension to the 35-hour working week - of being "extreme" and not allowing the Government to modernise some of the working practices of the railway.

"The world has changed and the railways need to change," he told Nick.

Mr Shapps also confirmed Government plans to change the laws governing the railway industry to allow more flexibility and to ensure staff with transferrable skills can take on other roles during strikes.

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He said technically this could apply for agency staff but this is unlikely as lots of jobs on the railway are very "technical".

RMT union staff are walking out today, Thursday and Saturday in a row over pay and working conditions, with travel mayhem set to cripple the network all week.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Mick Lynch confirmed the rail unions are asking for a pay rise of around seven or eight per cent in line with inflation after train companies offered them two per cent.

He explained: "They haven’t offered us three per cent plus one per cent what they’re offering to us is two per cent plus a conditional one per cent in two half per cent stages.

Grant Shapps speaks to LBC.
Grant Shapps speaks to LBC. Picture: LBC

"The companies are still making massive profits – last year they earned £500 million profit out the railway industry and the bosses in this industry are making loads of money."

He went on to say: "I think it’s a provocation put together in Downing Street and Whitehall so that they can attack the RMT and attack railway workers who they seem to have a dislike for because they're also attacking our pensions."

He told Nick it doesn't "bother" him whether Sir Keir Starmer supports the RMT as they have the support of their members, and claimed working class communities have "fallen out of connection with Labour".

A usually busy London Euston Station was almost deserted on Tuesday morning, with just a tiny fraction of the usual crowds of commuters present.

Little more than two dozen people waited for a reduced number of trains during what would normally be rush hour.

Passengers attempting to use the National Rail Enquiries website for around half an hour this morning were shown a message stating "500 Internal Server Error".

The cause of the problem was unclear but it could be due to a surge in demand.

Only a fifth of trains are running on Tuesday and half of lines are closed as around 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators have walked out.

Services are generally restricted to main lines, but even those are only open between 7.30am and 6.30pm.