Transport Secretary Mark Harper says ‘there is a deal to be done’ with railway unions to end planned industrial action following a ‘constructive’ meeting with the leader from the RMT, Mick Lynch.
Mr Harper said he and Mr Lynch, the boss of the industry’s largest union, “had an open and honest conversation about the serious challenges facing the railways” amid the impending strikes and had “a middle ground”.
“We both want the dispute come to an end and we both want a thriving railway that lives up to the passengers and the workers. However, to achieve this we must work together, across the industry, to ensure the prosperity of our rail industry,” the Transport Secretary said in a statement.
“There is a deal to be done, and I believe we will get there – I want to help the RMT and the employers reach an agreement and end the dispute for the benefit of the traveling public.”
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Speaking to broadcasters, he added: “So I think there are a lot of split deals there, but we have to get both sides – unions and employers – to sit down, agree on the details so that we can bring this argument to an end.”
Mr Lynch agreed the meeting was “positive”, telling reporters outside the Department for Transport: “We are now starting to engage in dialogue”.
He added there had been a change in tone from what he called the “belligerent nonsense” of Grant Shapps, who was transport secretary under Boris Johnson from July 2019 to September this year.
The RMT boss said Mr Harper had pledged to write to him about how he planned to take “steps towards a resolution”.
Speaking to Sky News later on Thursday, Mr Lynch said: “He’s not going to negotiate with me, it’s not his job, I understand that. But he needs to give some momentum to this process so that we can get a settlement and hopefully call off these strikes.
“But we won’t cancel them until we get tangible progress and a document that we can put to our members in a referendum.”
Ahead of today’s meeting, the Transport Secretary told Sky News that the government was ‘simply unable to afford the inflation-linked pay rises’.
Mr Harper told The Take with Sophy Ridge he understood why ‘people facing these cost of living pressures want more pay’, but said if ministers granted that wish, ‘the danger is that we were entrenching inflation”.
Earlier this week, Mr. Lynch insisted he was “not the Grinch” as he announced four 48-hour strikes over Christmas and New Year, saying there had been no improved offer on jobs, wages and conditions.
Around 40,000 Network Rail employees and 14 rail companies are ready to strike December 13, 14, 16 and 17 and January 3, 4, 6 and 7.
It means disruption for travelersworkers and buyers in the run up to Christmas and for people returning home after the festive break.
There could also be issues on other days as the RMT said an overtime ban would apply from December 18 until January 2.
The transport secretary has warned Sky News that the next strikes will have “a very significant cost”.
While industry body UK Hospitality said the disruption caused by the rail strikes would “devastate” hospitality.
The Christmas action will be the last in a series of rail strikes which started in June and follows the members of the RMT last week vote to continue the strike for another six months.
Train drivers who belong to the Aslef union are staging a separate strike this Saturday, hitting services run by 11 operators, including Great Western and Southeastern.