Mark Harper: Inflation-matching pay rises ‘unaffordable’
Increasing workers’ salaries to match inflation rates is simply unaffordable, according to transport secretary Mark Harper.
“We want to try and give all the workers in the public sector who work very hard decent pay rises, but they can’t be inflation busting,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Salary increases have been the focal point of the month-long dispute between rail workers, train operating companies and the Department for Transport (DfT).
Union bosses have repeatedly accused operators of profiteering off the back of workers, who haven’t had a pay rise since pre-pandemic times and cannot keep up with surging inflation.
Companies, on the other hand, have called for unions to come back to the negotiating table and work together to find a suitable solution.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) ‘s general secretary Frances O’Grady said that holding down pay was “a political choice.”
Harper – who met with RMT’s chief Mick Lynch for the first time on Thursday – said negotiations were progressing.
According to the secretary, rail bosses “will have the ability to reach a deal,” but reforms still need to be negotiated.
“I do not have a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money to throw at this problem,” he told BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.
Rail operators’ lack of negotiating power is perceived to be the biggest obstacle to finding a resolution, with the RMT saying talks had become a farce.
“The employers say to me ‘I cannot negotiate because I don’t have a mandate,’” Lynch said on Thursday.
Harper said he wants to “encourage the two sides in the negotiation to reach a conclusion,” whilst not being directly involved in the talks.
“It’s not my job to do the negotiations, but I’m very determined on behalf of the public to do what I can to get us to a resolution of the dispute,” he told Sky News.
Strikes announced for 13, 14, 16, 17 December and 3, 4, 6, 7 January are still set to go on, disrupting the retail and hospitality sectors’ busiest trading period.
Commenting on the remarks, the RMT said the secretary needed to make his role “tangible and real.”
“That means setting out in writing the role and authority of the Rail Delivery Group, and giving them the mandate that enables them to make an offer that will create a settlement,” a spokesperson said.