Politics

Unions warn of 'summer of discontent' as Tories threaten tougher laws to prevent strikes


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that ministers are looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working ahead of looming rail strikes

The RMT union is balloting its members for strike action (file photo)
The RMT union is balloting its members for strike action (file photo)

Union bosses have warned of a “summer of discontent” if the Government presses on with its threat to tighten industrial action laws to make it harder to hold a rail strike.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that ministers are looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working.

He said that the Government hopes the unions “will wake up and smell the coffee” and suggested that strikes could put more people off rail travel.

Mr Shapps also accused unions of resorting to industrial action rather than using it as a last resort, adding that railways were already on “financial life support” because of the pandemic.

The Government’s plan for a minimum staffing requirement during rail strikes, promised in the Tory 2019 manifesto, comes as the threat of a major industrial action looms.







Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
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Image:

NurPhoto/PA Images)

“If they really got to that point then minimum service levels would be a way to work towards protecting those freight routes and those sorts of things,” Mr Shapps added.

The RMT union is preparing to unveil the results of a strike ballot of 40,000 members – which could pave the way for months of chaos across the rail network – on Wednesday.

Another rail union, the TSSA, has also threatened “a summer of discontent” unless ongoing pay disputes are resolved.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, Britain’s biggest union, said: “For ministers to be focusing on undermining the fundamental rights of workers rather than tackling the cost of living crisis speaks volumes.

“They’re only interested in finding scapegoats for their own economic failures. The right to strike is a vital line of defence to protect jobs, pay and services.

“The effect of removing it will be to drive down wages even further, make millions more struggle to pay their bills and push them into poverty.”

Mr Shapps is meeting Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week to discuss the potential fallout from the RMT vote.

The Transport Secretary said the unions were “jumping the gun” and urged them to come to the table to discuss their calls for higher wages.

He suggested that union chiefs had not recognised that a “seismic shift” was taking place for the railways with many commuters now able to work from home some or all of the time.

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