RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch has told hospitality businesses to direct their anger at rail operators for the upcoming rail strikes.
In a letter to hospitality and retail associations, Lynch said that while “you face disruption to your business at this critical time, the private rail businesses we are in dispute with will not lose a penny.”
Strikes will take place on 13, 14, 16, 17 December as well as 3, 4, 6, 7 January – falling slap bang in the middle of the sectors’ busiest trading period.
The union said the government has indemnified railway companies, sparing them “from being liable for any loss of revenue arising from the strikes.”
High street bosses once more urged all parties to hash out a resolution to the dispute on Tuesday, with pleas that jobs and businesses were hanging in the balance.
Pub bosses told CityA.M. they were nervously awaiting to see if diners cancelled their Christmas party bookings in the weeks ahead of the strikes.
According to Lynch, ministers have bailed operators out of strikes for a total of £318m, not giving companies any incentive to settle the disputes.
“As it is the government which is clearly prolonging this dispute with their taxpayer funded bailout for the private train companies you would clearly be justified in asking what similar steps it will be taking to compensate your businesses,” Lynch wrote.
The letter comes on the same day transport secretary Mark Harper maintained his role was that of facilitator, not of negotiator.
“I want to work with you and employers in good faith to help resolve these long-standing issues, and help the employers and you reach a resolution that is fair to all,” the secretary wrote to Lynch.
Lynch – who is set to meet rail minister Huw Merriman and rail operators this Friday – deemed the government’s timing “astonishing.”
“By this Friday more than a week will have passed since I met the Secretary of State without an offer being put on the table,” he said. “Time is running out.”
Rail unions were “only looking out for themselves,” while “people’s jobs are at risk”, the CEO of West End landlord Shaftesbury told CityA.M.
If West End firms were not able to reap the rewards of the Christmas shopping period next month, that trade will be “lost and gone forever,” Brian Bickell said.
It comes as city centres face a “downbeat” start to next year, as cash-strapped Brits pull back from discretionary spending after Christmas, he added.
“Every day we go without a resolution is another day of damage to the industry,” hospitality trade representatives stressed in an open letter to union and railway bosses on Tuesday.
All parties were urged “in the strongest terms possible” to hash out an urgent resolution, before pubs risk a huge hit to the £2.3bn monthly takings they earn each Christmas, the letter stated.
Signatories of the letter included the British Beer and Pub Association, British Institute of Innkeeping, Night Time Industries Association, Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and the Association of Town and City Management.
If strike action goes ahead “millions of people” will be impacted, while thousands of businesses are “heavily reliant” on festive revenue to keep going into 2023, Michael Kill, head of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said.
The nightclub trade body called for all parties to “urgently come to the table and commit to meaningful and realistic negotiations towards an agreement.”
“I would also ask all sides here to consider the impacts of these actions on wider society, and the critical situation many sectors like our own, who rely on public transport infrastructure, have been left in,” Kill added.
The Rail Delivery Group said the RMT’s “rhetoric seeks to divert attention from the very real consequences of their actions” on hospitality businesses.
Train operators were presently paid a fixed fee of 0.5 per cent of costs to run services for the government, with small additional payments linked to demanding targets on punctuality, reliability and other measures, a spokesperson said.
“Even if that fee were to be removed entirely, it would not come close to funding the pay rise we want to give our people”, they said.
“Instead, we need the RMT to work with us to agree the long-overdue reforms which will unlock a fair deal, improve services and secure the industry’s long-term future.”
The Department for Transport told City A.M. the secretary had already outlined how he could facilitate talks.