The boss of one of the UK's largest transport unions has threatened a national shutdown on the railways following a row over pensions that escalated after the government barred Stagecoach from bidding for three rail franchises.
Yesterday Stagecoach, which runs a partnership with Richard Branson's Virgin Trains, was excluded from bidding for the East Midlands, West Coast and South Eastern franchises after the Department for Transport (DfT) said it did not meet requirements to share pension liabilities.
The RMT's Mick Cash said he would ballot his staff for industrial action if there was "any attempt to attack the pension rights of staff employed by train operating companies".
“No one should be under any illusions," he said. "The pension rights of RMT members are not there to be used as bargaining chips in a row between the train companies and the government. Any threat to our members pensions will be met with ballots for action and we will co-ordinate any response across the country."
Yesterday business tycoon Sir Richard Branson said he was "devastated" by the decision and warned that Virgin Trains could be gone from the UK as soon as November.
Branson, who founded the Virgin Group, said he was "baffled" by the government's decision and said it would have been "reckless" for Virgin – which is 49 per cent owned by Stagecoach – to "accept a risk we can’t manage".
"Forcing rail companies to take these risks could lead to the failure of more rail franchises," he added.
"We are still looking closely at the decision and we are now considering our options."
Yesterday the government awarded the East Midlands franchise to Abellio, who will take over from Stagecoach, the current operator.