Shapps says rail strikes are ‘incredible act of self-harm’

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has spoken out against the impending rail strikes during a visit to Hornsey depot in north London.

The depot is run by Siemens, and used to maintain the large fleets of Siemens units which run on Govia Thameslink Railway.

Mr Shapps has declined to hold direct talks with the unions, saying that negotiations are a matter for the employers.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has said the real holders of railway budgets are Grant Shapps and chancellor Rishi Sunak, which is why he wishes to speak to them directly.

Speaking at Hornsey, Mr Shapps said: ’These strikes are not only a bid to derail reforms that are critical to the network’s future and designed to inflict damage at the worst possible time, they are also an incredible act of self-harm by the union leadership.

‘Make no mistake, unlike the past 25 years, when rising passenger demand, year after year, was taken for granted by the industry, today the railway is in a fight.

‘It’s not only competing against other forms of public and private transport, it’s in a battle with Zoom, Teams and remote working. In case the unions haven’t noticed, the world has changed.

‘Many commuters, who three years ago had no alternative to taking the train, today have the option of not travelling at all. Wave them goodbye and it will endanger the jobs of thousands of rail workers.

‘The last thing the railway should be doing right now is alienating passengers and freight customers with a long and damaging strike.’

The RMT is set to stage three 24-hour strikes next week which will involve up to 40,000 workers at Network Rail and 13 train operating companies. The walkouts, on 21, 23 and 25 June, will cause severe disruption, with no trains running in some parts of the country and only a skeleton service on other lines.

The disruption will also extend into the following day each time.

The dispute is over jobs and pay, and other unions are also planning to take action next week or in the near future. ASLEF has announced strikes of its driver members at Greater Anglia on 23 June, which will coincide with an RMT strike day. The white collar union TSSA is balloting its members at Avanti West Coast, and a future walkout there could affect operational managers as well, who will not then be available to stand in for absent staff. TSSA is also balloting more than 6,000 Network Rail staff for strikes and action short of a strike as the disputes worsen, while ASLEF, which represents most drivers, is balloting its members at nine other operators.

Elsewhere, London tram drivers are staging two 48-hour strikes on 28-29 June and 13-14 July, while open access operator Hull Trains faces disruption on 26 June, when its drivers will walk out for the day. London Underground is also set to be disrupted by another strike on 21 June.