Boris Johnson has told people they will have to “stay the course” and endure strike action before the government is able to reform the country’s rail network.
The Prime Minister told his cabinet this morning that “we need the union barons to sit down with Network Rail and the train companies and get on with it” as the first day of crippling rail strikes begin.
More than 40,000 staff from 13 rail companies and Network Rail have walked off the job today, with the country’s rail services to be cut in half for the rest of the week.
Workers on the London Underground are also striking today, bringing the capital to a standstill.
Rail workers are protesting over 2,500 job cuts in Network Rail, unhappiness with the current wage rise offers from the industry and concerns about future job losses through automation of things like ticket offices.
Johnson told his cabinet that without cost cutting reforms “these great companies, this great industry, will face further financial pressure, it will go bust and the result will be they have to hike up the cost of tickets still further”.
Speaking before cabinet, Johnson said: “We need the union barons to sit down with Network Rail and the train companies and get on with it. We need, I’m afraid, everybody, and I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course.
“To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for farepayers up and down the country.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that this week’s strikes are bringing the UK “back to the bad old days of union strikes”, while vowing to bring in strike-busting legislation.
The government is set to repeal a law which stops companies bringing in agency staff to cover for striking workers.
Shapps said: “I hear the unions say it’s about pay, it’s about job cuts — in fact there’s a pay offer on the table and the job cuts are by and large voluntary.
“So it’s unnecessary, it’s taking us back to the bad old days of union strikes and they’ve walked away now from the negotiations saying they’re going to strike and calling off any chance of a resolution. We’re going to have to push on with these reforms anyway.”
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has been in discussion with Network Rail and the rail companies in a bid to secure a wage increase that negates the UK’s near double digit inflation.
RMT boss Mick Lynch said UK workers needed to “co-ordinate industrial action across every town and city in Britain”.
“We want a resolution, but many in the public, like us, are suffering from rampant austerity,” he said.
“The British worker needs a pay rise and job security.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out against the strikes and has told his shadow cabinet to not attend any of the picket lines this week.
However, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner appeared to back the strikers in a tweet today.
“Workers have been left with no choice,” she said.
“No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work. The PM needs to do his own job. His government caused this. Now they must solve it.”