Transport secretary Grant Shapps was accused of blocking the negotiations between rail operators and unions that could end the ongoing strikes.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) called on Shapps to “stop prolonging the rail dispute” which has threatened to bring the country to a standstill.
“Transport secretary Grant Shapps is giving secret instructions to rail firms from behind the scenes – and stopping them coming to a deal,” said TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“It’s time for the transport secretary to stop blocking an agreement that will end the dispute.”
Contracts between the Department for Transport (DfT) and operators allow the government to apply financial sanctions if they don’t follow the directions given by the secretary, a legal opinion commissioned by the union argued.
The DfT rebutted the accusations, saying the government has never meddled in the negotiations between unions and employers.
“It’s extremely misleading to suggest the Transport Secretary should get involved in these negotiations,” a DfT spokesperson told City A.M.
“He’s required to set the limits of taxpayer support and ultimately sign off on any deal – not to be involved in negotiating one – and his contracts with operators allow him to do precisely that.
“The union knows full well that negotiations over pay and working practices don’t happen with the government – they happen with the employers of the people they represent. In this case, that’s Network Rail and the train operating companies.
“Industry leaders continue to offer talks to unions and we urge them to stay at the negotiating table instead of walking out for more destructive strikes.”
Railway workers at Network Rail and 14 other operators are to walk out on Wednesday in the first of a three-day strike over job cuts and salaries.
The next dates will be 18 and 20 August – at the same time as members of the TSSA union working at seven railway operators will walk out.
Platform and ticketing staff at Avanti West Coast will also join the industrial action on 27 July, while train drivers will take the streets on Saturday.
The strikes are set to have a significant impact on the capital’s economy and businesses, hitting the hospitality sector the hardest.
Revolution Bars’ Pitcher previously told City A.M. that the three-day industrial action carried out by the RMT in mid-June was a “real inconvenience” to recovery sales.
“We would urge all parties to come to an agreement as soon as they can,” he said.
“The nation as a whole has been through a torrid couple of years and then the thought of a protracted rail strike is almost unthinkable when people just want to get back out there and start living their lives.”