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Grant Shapps Says New Legislation Will Require Railways To Run Services During Strikes

4 min read

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed government will bring forward legislation requiring railways to run a minimum number of services, including during periods of industrial action.

The proposed legislation seeks to fulfill a Conservative party manifesto pledge at the 2019 general election.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, the Transport Secretary said the government is “looking at a variety of different options for the railways in order to maintain services amid the disruption in medium and longer term”.

“We can no longer tolerate a position where rail workers exercising their right to strike can do it without any regard for how the rights of others are respected,” he said.

“Minimum service legislation is just one part of that.”

Shapps’ announcement comes as the Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) today confirmed it will go ahead with planned industrial action.

Railways across Britain will grind to a halt on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with knock on effects likely to affect services throughout the rest of the week.

In a press conference today, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said his union’s industrial action would continue for as long as necessary.

“Our campaign will run for as long as it needs to run until we get a settlement that is acceptable to our people,” Lynch said.

“We are firmly of the belief that the only way for us to settle this dispute is for Grant Shapps and the government to allow these parties to negotiate and let these parties reach a reasonable agreement that will end the disruption of the service, will secure jobs and allow a decent transport system to be developed in this country,” he added.

RMT members are due to strike over pay freezes, occupational health and safety and job cut threats.

An offer of a 2 per cent rise by Network Rail, the organisation that employs rail workers, was rejected by the union.

Lynch has claimed some of the union’s 40,000 strong membership have been forced to rely on foodbanks and benefits due to the cost-of-living crisis, despite working full-time hours.

However, ministers argue that implementing pay rises across the public sector will not solve the issue, rather it would worsen inflation by driving costs upwards.

Labour has criticised government for not engaging directly with union bosses in an effort to resolve the dispute. However, Shapps has maintained that it is for Network Rail as the workers’ employer to negotiate, rather than the government.

“The entire country is about to ground to halt, but instead of intervening to stop it the secretary of state is washing his hands of any responsibility,” said Louise Haigh, Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary. 

“On the eve of the biggest rail dispute in a generation, taking place on his watch, he has still not lifted a finger to resolve it,” she added.

“Should these strikes go ahead tomorrow they will represent a catastrophic failure of leadership.”

In an effort to lessen the impact of the strikes, this week ministers are set to repeal laws banning employers from hiring casual and agency staff to replace striking workers.

“Repealing these 1970s-era restrictions will give businesses the freedom to access skilled, temporary staff at short notice," Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Monday.

“Legislation is on its way,” he added.

Responding to the plans, Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress, said: "Just a few months ago Transport Secretary Grant Shapps slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, but now he's proposing to do the same on railways.

"Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce.

"It would put these workers in an appalling situation, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.”

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