Transport secretary Chris Grayling has accused senior Labour figures of stirring up unrest at Southern rail and encouraging further industrial action on the beleaguered network.
Speaking at a House of Commons debate yesterday to discuss the publication of a report into the train operator’s performance by Chris Gibb, a non-executive director at Network Rail, Grayling was asked whether he was aware of the unions working together, being encouraged by the Labour party.
“I’m very clear now that I think there is a direct link between the actions of the Labour party leadership in trying to cause disruption for the government this summer and the decisions to reprise industrial action,” Grayling said.
Southern rail has been beset by long-running industrial action by both the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and train drivers’ union Aslef. Performance on Southern has picked up, but Aslef has recently imposed a fresh overtime ban and the RMT has slotted in a new strike date for 10 July.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald rebuffed Grayling’s claims as “complete and utter fantasy”.
“To put it simply, the secretary of state’s militant anti-worker, anti-trade union stance has significantly worsened industrial relations and had a devastating impact on passenger services,” McDonald said of Grayling’s involvement in the troubles on Southern.
He also accused the transport secretary of sitting on the Gibb report until after the election, denying passengers the chance to scrutinise it..
The Gibb report said a combination of factors contributed to Southern rail’s headaches, including poor timetabling and unreliable infrastructure, as well as the long-running industrial action.
Yesterday in Parliament there was also a cross-party meeting of MPs with the RMT. Speaking on behalf of Conservatives MPs after the meeting, Tim Loughton MP said: “We will do all we can to come up with a common sense agreement that looks to address any genuine residual safety concerns and deliver a reliable service to our constituents. We should all now look to come up with sustainable solutions that can be achieved now made easier by on the constructive recommendations in the Gibb report.”