“The tide is turning” on the wage offer of railway workers, says the secretary of Transport | Politics News

The “tide is turning” in the rail unions when it comes to wage offers on the table, said Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

Members of the RMT rejected the last offer of Network Rail yesterday by 64%.

The deal would have included a 5% and 4% pay rise over two years, but meant thousands of job losses, a 50% reduction in scheduled maintenance tasks and a 30% increase in non-social hours.

However, Mr Harper said he had more support than previous offers on the table, urging the union to ‘review it, call off the strikes and accept what is a reasonable wage offer’.

The Politics Live: Widespread rail strikes begin across the country

Railway workers staged another march today in the first of a series of strike days this month, December 13, 14, 16 and 17.

More strikes are also planned from 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve to 5:59 a.m. on December 27.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch accused the government of ‘refusing to lift a finger to prevent these strikes’ and promised its members would ‘continue their campaign for a square deal for workers, decent pay rises and good working conditions”.

But speaking to Sky News, Mr Harper said the Government needed to ‘be fair to the taxpayer’, adding: ‘There is no bottomless money to invest in the rail industry.

He insisted the offer made to the workers was “very fair and reasonable” and pointed to the fact that bosses at the TSSA union – which represents station staff – had already recommended it to their members.

“Even with the very strong recommendation of the RMT to its members not to accept the offer to refuse it, to reject it out of hand, we still saw nearly 40% of the members of the RMT want to accept it “said the transport secretary.

“So I think the tide is swirling around the opinion as to whether these offers are reasonable or not, and so I hope the union will reconsider, call off the strikes and accept what is a reasonable wage offer.”

Mr Harper rejected accusations he added in caveats to the terms and conditions agreement, which means members would have to agree not to have staff on driverless trains – to which the RMT is strongly opposed.

“I don’t want these strikes to happen at all,” he added. “They’re bad for passengers. They’re bad for business.”

But Labour’s Andrew Gwynne told Sky News it’s “a job for the Transport Secretary to sit down and negotiate a deal”, and accused him of refusing to do so.

“At the end of the day, the public will now worry about whether their Christmas preparations are turned upside down,” he added.

“Government really needs to get this under control and it starts with sitting down, negotiating, meeting and finding some sort of compromise that both sides can accept.”

“Sit and Listen”

Mr Gwynne also accused ministers of ‘letting’ the nurses’ strikes go ahead later this month in refuse to negotiate salary.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay met Royal College of Nursing Secretary Pat Cullen last night with the MRC in the hope he would put forward a pay offer to avoid the two days of industrial action over the maps.

But then speaking to Sky News, Ms Cullen revealed he was ‘true to his word’ and ‘wouldn’t talk to me about pay’, accusing him of ‘belligerence’.

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The head of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, has said nurses’ strikes will continue after talks with the health secretary came to nothing.

Mr Harper defended the move when pressed this morning, saying: ‘We have an independent pay review body for the health service which has made a series of recommendations for people who work in the service health, including the nurses we value.

“So we accepted all of their recommendations in full. The 19% salary increase the nurses are asking for is not affordable. I don’t think it’s reasonable. And it would take money away from the health of First line.”

But Labour’s Mr Gwynne said: ‘We’re not saying we can afford what the unions are asking for, but a negotiation is just that. You sit down, you listen to the issues, you listen to the concerns on both sides You find common spaces to get along and ultimately make a deal.

“The government is not doing this. We would. We would sit down with the representatives of the employers and we would make sure that these strikes were avoided.

“We didn’t have a single strike against the NHS under the last Labor government. There is no reason there should be one under this Conservative government.”

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