With the far-left RMT union threatening to take their members out on strike again over demands for a 10 percent pay rise, the Transport Secretary has warned that he intends to copy EU countries and bring in a “minimum service level” law which will prevent strikers from stopping all train journeys. A defiant Mr Shapps pointed out that countries like France, Italy and Spain have the same laws which could also be used to protect the London Underground system.
In a heated session of transport questions in the Commons, Mr Shapps made it clear he will not back down against “Marxist” union bosses with more RMT strikes planned for July.
Labour tried to claim that he should be leading the talks with the union but he hit back pointing out that the strikes had also affected the Tube in London which Mr Khan is in charge of.
Mocking the London Mayor he said: “I notice from the benches opposite that they constantly call for me to go into direct negotiations with the unions.
“They may be able to tell us whether the Mayor of London has done the same thing with the RMT strikes.
“If he has it hasn’t worked and if he hasn’t why aren’t they calling on him to do that?”
In response to another question he made it clear that a new strike breaking law would be introduced.
With Labour MPs joining militant strikers on the picket lines, earlier this month there were howls of protest as he made the statement.
He said: “We are intending to progress with minimum service levels. That is in our manifesto, and we will be introducing legislation later this year. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, minimum service levels exist in civilised countries such as France, Italy and Spain, and it is about time we had them in the UK as well.”
Minimum service laws means that when strike action takes place employees are obligated to maintain a reduced service to keep the national infrastructure going.
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Earlier South West Hertfordshire MP Gagan Mohindra pointed out that the taxpayer had already paid billions in subsidies to keep the rail companies in business during the pandemic.
He said: “Does [the minister] share my disappointment that after two years of spending taxpayers’ money in supporting the rail industry, the RMT have chosen to strike instead of accepting the pay rise they have been offered or to continue to negotiate?”
Mr Shapps responded: “My honourable friend is right, but it is actually even worse than that. Not only was £16 billion of taxpayers’ money put in- £600 per family in this country, or £160,000 per individual railway employee- but the RMT balloted for strike action under the false pretence that there would not be a pay rise, when in fact the pay freeze had already ended.
“That is unjustified and unjustifiable action that the whole House should be condemning.”
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Mr Shapps also accused Labour and SNP MPs of supporting “Marxists” who want to bring the government down.
Responding to Glasgow East MP David Linton, he said that union bosses such as the RMT general secretary Mick Lynch had “sold their members a duffer.”
He told MPs: “I think that railway workers are very hard-working people who have been sold a duffer by their union bosses, who are hard-line—in many cases—Marxists who want to bring this Government down and bring the country to a standstill.
“Fortunately, they are paid well above the average in the country—£44,000 for the average railway worker compared with only £31,000 for a nurse.”