'Driving unrest and stoking unrealistic expectations': Minister slams RMT ahead of strikes

20 June 2022, 08:27 | Updated: 20 June 2022, 09:07

By Emma Soteriou

Treasury minister Simon Clarke has accused the RMT union of "driving unrest, damaging the economy, and stoking unrealistic expectations" ahead of a series of crippling rail strikes.

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Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Mr Clarke explained how the strikes were "simply unsustainable" with the country still trying to recover financially from the Covid pandemic as well as the UK being hit with higher prices due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He told Nick: "It is against that backdrop that it is simply unsustainable for unions like the RMT to be making things worse, driving unrest, damaging the economy and stoking unrealistic expectations which actually, if they were realised, would prolong and intensify inflation."

He added: "We want to see fair pay increases here and no one's talking crucially about a pay freeze."

The RMT has defended pressing ahead with the series of strikes and called for a seven per cent pay rise in line with the rising costs of living.

Workers are set to walkout on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week, with more than 50 per cent of the rail network shut in a row over pay and working conditions.

Across the three days, 13 train operators and Network Rail will be taking action, joined by London Underground staff on the Tuesday.

Half of Britain's rail lines will close completely during the strikes, with a reduced timetable in place from Monday through to Sunday.

The RMT said workers are striking as Network Rail is lining up 2,500 job cuts in rail maintenance, and they are striking over a pay freeze, demanding an increase in line with inflation.

Read more: Train strikes until Xmas! Millions face travel misery as rail unions demand 7% pay hike

Read more: More strike chaos as nurses, teachers and binmen could walk out over pay

It came after he said that the action would cause "misery for millions" in coming days.

"We absolutely don't want to see that happen - this will cause misery for millions of people," said Mr Clarke.

"The Government is absolutely clear there is a fair deal to be done here and we will do everything we can to enable that but ultimately the trade unions do need to reflect on the interest of their own members.

"It is absolutely in the interest of the individual men and women who work hard for the railways."

Despite talks still ongoing, people have been urged not to travel this week unless absolutely necessary.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy earlier told LBC that the situation "won't get any easier" if unions decide to continue strikes in the long term.

When asked if he would use agency staff should the strikes go on for six months: "Well, actually, we can't have a strike for six months. This is ridiculous.

"The country's just getting back on its feet after Covid, the RMT and the other trade unions' members and our staff certainly can't afford to lose that sort of money, and our concern is to solve this before it starts because it won't get any easier after six months."