RMT leader MICK LYNCH at a rally demanding funding for public transport

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has accused the Johnson government and the privately-run train operating companies of ‘using Covid as a smokescreen’ to rip up collective agreements and sack tens of thousands of workers.

Lynch made the accusation as railway privateers around the UK announced that they are cutting their services, blaming staff shortages and claiming that service levels are too high.

Appearing on Sky News yesterday morning, Lynch accused the Department of Transport of instructing the train privateers to ‘freeze pay for an unlimited amount of time’ and ‘shed the railways of tens of thousands of jobs’.

‘We can’t tolerate that,’ Lynch warned, and insisted that ‘we will defend our agreements to the utmost’.

The interview started with Lynch being asked about staff shortages.

He said: ‘Railworkers and other public transport workers on the buses and the ferries are being pinged and forced to isolate after getting the symptoms. So they have to follow the guidance just like anyone else and that will cause short-staffing. It does expose the government’s plans to cut staff on the railway and in the transport service.’

He continued: ‘We’ve got to keep the proper service going, obviously so that key workers can get in to the workplace and run these services, people depend on that, the public sector workers are not the highest paid and we need to keep the public transport system intact.’

Lynch warned: ‘It is a shame that government and the train operating companies in particular are taking advantage of the crisis to push through permanent changes. The government and the companies, the train operators and rail, have got plans to shed tens of thousands of jobs and rip up all our collective agreements and also freeze pay for an unlimited amount of time.

‘We can’t tolerate that, we can’t allow them to use Covid as a smokescreen to damage our members’ working lives. We will defend our agreements to the utmost extent.

‘You would wonder why these companies, and the Department of Transport which has issued instructions to the companies to put through draconian changes and shed the railways of tens of thousands of jobs and cut our pay.

‘We can’t just tolerate in the name of national unity that our members should be decimated at work and that their pay should not just fall behind inflation but be actively cut and their conditions and their working time should be shredded.

‘We’re not going to tolerate the government using the Covid crisis as a means by which to shred our conditions. We have to respond to that and I feel we have a duty to respond to that in kind.’

Hundreds of train services have been cut, with the privateers blaming Covid.

ScotRail said more than 150 daily ScotRail services will be cut, South Western railway (SWR) will operate a new timetable as Omicron has had a ‘significant impact on its services’, Greater Anglia will not operate 70 weekday services because of falling passenger numbers and staff shortages.

Southern announced it has suspended services to and from London Victoria – one of the UK’s busiest stations – until 10 January because of ‘coronavirus isolation and sickness’, Great Northern, Thameslink and Hull Trains have also unveiled reduced timetables.

CrossCountry has removed 50 train timetables up until 8th January and said passengers are ‘strongly advised to alter their plans and avoid travel’.