Grant Shapps has warned most of the country “coped” during last week’s strikes due to the “collapse of commuting” and increasingly hybrid working culture.
Commenting after the third day of industrial action by tens-of-thousands of RMT union members, he said they had struck to “ defend indefensible working practices” which needed an update.
Writing in the Telegraph today, he accused the union of hitting those with “less well paid and secure jobs” hardest, because they were “prevented from working and earning”.
“But most of the country coped without the railways. Outside London (where there was also a Tube strike on one day), traffic was similar to normal”, he added.
This comes after 40,000 RMT Union members walked out last week, despite extensive talks in the dispute over job losses, pay and conditions.
Shapps has refused to meet directly with union bosses, with RMT leaders looking for a pay rise of at least seven per cent and assurances of no compulsory redundancies.
Union bosses have warned more strikes are likely if a settlement cannot be reached, with thousands of RMT members working on the London Underground network, meaning possible tube disruption.
Shapps claimed strikes were less effective because the pandemic had drastically cut the number of people using trains to get to their job, as they could work remotely.
“The days when rail strikes could bring the country to a halt are gone. Tragically, this means that, if they continue, the biggest victims may end up being rail workers themselves.”
He said the strikes were being called based on “outdated beliefs” including that people have “no option” other than rail.
“For millions more people, rail is now a choice, not a necessity”, he said.
The rail network had experienced a “collapse of commuting” and that it’s “growth market is now at the weekends, but we can’t run enough trains to meet that demand because most Sunday working is voluntary – under an agreement from 1919.”
Calling to change the “steam-age working practices” he said the rail network would not be held back from being able to fund an “affordable pay rise”.
The RMT Union’s general secretary Mick Lynch said in a statement on 25 June, that: “Grant Shapps is talking nonsense and is completely ignorant of how the railways work which is a major shortcoming for a Transport Secretary.”
“It is false that that Sunday working practices have not been updated since 1919.”