International transport trade unions on Friday urged London to negotiate a swift end to Britain’s biggest rail strike in over 30 years, on the eve of the latest walkout.
More than 100 unions have written an open letter to UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps calling on him to help settle the bitter row over pay, as surging inflation sparks growing industrial unrest.
The letter, coordinated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, comes one day before the third of this week’s three rail strikes.
“We are writing to call on you to meet with the transport unions to discuss rail workers’ concerns and enable the unions to reach a negotiated settlement to the disputes with rail employers,” the letter read.
And it called upon the government to “defend rail workers’ jobs, pay, conditions and pensions”.
Shapps has so far refused to get involved in negotiations, arguing that they should be held between workers’ trade unions, Network Rail and private-sector railway operating firms.
The letter was signed by unions from across the world, including Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East.
“We are shocked that … the UK government is set to impose cuts to railway services and scrap infrastructure projects at exactly the time when it should be investing, expanding and promoting public transport, especially the railways to help reduce global emissions from transport,” the letter continued.
“We call on you to do what’s right by these workers and their communities, and call on you to meet urgently with the transport unions.”
The RMT rail union insists strikes are necessary as wages have failed to keep pace with UK inflation, which has hit a 40-year high and is on course to keep rising.
The RMT also accuses Shapps of having “wrecked” negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw a letter threatening redundancies of 2,900 RMT members.
However, Shapps has called that “a total lie”.
Rail staff went on strike on Tuesday and Thursday — and are also set to do so on Saturday in the absence of a deal.
A Department for Transport spokesperson denied that the government had sought to obstruct any agreement.
“It is entirely false to claim the government is blocking negotiations,” the spokesperson stated.
“We have said from the outset we urge the unions and industry to agree a deal that is fair for railway staff, passengers and taxpayers.”
Separately, British Airways workers at London’s Heathrow airport voted on Thursday to strike over pay.
Members of the GMB and Unite trade unions overwhelmingly backed action and warned of a “summer of strikes” as the nation’s cost-of-living crisis worsens.