‘Grant Shapps needs to stop smearing the RMT and unshackle the rail operating companies so they can come to a negotiated settlement that can end this dispute.’
This was RMT general secretary Mick Lynch’s response to the Tory Transport Secretary’s threat to change the law to allow agency workers to break strikes.
‘Railway workers voted overwhelmingly for strike action in defence of their jobs and for a pay rise that deals with the rising cost of living,’ he continued.
‘It is insulting to them to suggest they do not understand the issues that affect their daily lives or cannot make a democratic decision by themselves.
‘We already have the most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws in Western Europe and if the government attempts to reduce our rights further, the RMT along with the rest of the trade union movement will mount the fiercest resistance possible.’
Shapps said in interviews in yesterday’s Telegraph and Sun newspapers that he plans to ‘reverse a restriction that stops employers from hiring agency workers to cover for striking staff’.
Announcing a full-scale war on the railworkers union, Shapps said ‘further measures certainly would come in during this particular dispute, if it can’t be resolved.
‘I’ll be saying more about this. But we will be looking at the full suite of modernisation that’s required. The country must not continue to be held to ransom.’
He continued: ‘I can’t over-stress our determination to get the right outcome for the travelling public in the end on this, even if the unions insist on putting the country through considerable pain in the meantime.’
Shapps claimed of the railworkers: ‘They are being led by union barons, in some cases, very extreme Marxists, who are determined to turn this into some sort of fight, as they see it, with a Tory government.’
TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak responded: ‘This government is desperate to distract from its numerous failings by picking a fight with unions.
‘Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and be extremely reckless.
‘Bringing in less qualified and experienced staff to deliver important services would create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce.
‘Using agency workers to try and break strikes would put these workers in an appalling situation, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.
‘Some may not realise until it is too late that they are being asked to break a strike.
‘Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now seem determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and to make it harder for working people to win fair pay and conditions.
‘Let’s call this out for what it is. The PM is throwing red meat to his rebellious backbenchers to try and shore up his position.’
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We’ve already got the most restrictive anti-union legislation in the whole of western Europe.
‘It’s already incredibly difficult for unions and workers to withdraw their labour. There are so many legal loopholes to fly through.
‘If you think about what Grant Shapps is trying to do with that legislation, is to make industrial action ineffective, and I believe it’s a basic human right to be able to withdraw your labour.
‘You only do it as a last resort and any attempts to bring people in to undermine disputes will not resolve the problems.’