A minister has said that it would “not be right” for the government to partake in talks between unions and rail chiefs as it “does not control all the levers”.
He also warned that public sector staff cannot expect “inflation busting” pay rises.
Over 40,000 rail staff are set to walk out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, bringing the system to a near halt and provoking disruption throughout the week.
Chief secretary to the treasury, Simon Clarke, told Sky News today that the government “don’t control all the levers that need to be held here as the employer. The employer is Network Rail and the train operating companies.”
“They are the ones who need to drive the programme of reform to make the railway sustainable. We don’t own the railways ourselves and it wouldn’t be right for us to substitute ourselves for the role of the employer.
“We recognise these strikes are a huge inconvenience for millions of people. I absolutely want them not to go ahead. But it isn’t the case that we can put ourselves into the hot seat in place of the legal employer.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps took a similar line on Sunday’s broadcast round.
Clarke admitted it is “likely” that tomorrow’s scheduled strikes will occur.
He went on: “Clearly we will continue to support the negotiations until such time as there is no more time to discuss.
“But I think the public do this week need to be aware there will be very substantial disruption and it is therefore sensible to make preparations for that,” he added.
He also argued that public sector workers such as rail staff “cannot have inflation-busting pay increases” as this could encourage inflation to spike yet further.
“In the current situation with inflation which is a real issue, we do have to be very, very sensitive to it. If we start having pay awards which take us close to double digits then we are going to see this problem prolonged and that is just the economic reality of where we find ourselves at the moment,” he explained.
This morning the RMT Union’s assistant general secretary John Leach told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Network Rail’s current pay offer was unacceptable and “nowhere near enough”.
“You can split these negotiations in two. So let’s look at Network Rail first. We are dealing with a company, or Network Rail itself, where staff haven’t received a pay rise for a number of years now and we have been offered two per cent,” he outlined.
“That was the offer that was made late last week. It is nowhere near enough with inflation at 11 per cent. We are looking for a package also around the issue of job security because… the company have put on the table a kind of an all-in package of just under 3,000 job cuts, a wholescale re-organisation of the workforce and in return for that, eight per cent less than inflation. So obviously that is not acceptable.
“On the train operating companies it is kind of worse. No pay rise on the table at the moment. Every single ticket office in the country being closed. A form of internal fire and rehire where staff have got to go through a reevaluation process and it is just not acceptable.”
Leach also said the Labour Party “really should refocus here on its responsibility to represent those in society that are looking for a better situation. That is us in this occasion so we would like more.”
Yesterday, Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Sarah Olney MP accused the transport secretary of “inflicting misery on passengers and businesses,” arguing that: “government ministers and union bosses are just as bad as each other. They are both playing politics with people’s lives.