A minister today insisted it “wouldn’t be right” for the Government to intervene in talks between union bosses and rail chiefs as the nation braces for a week of disruptive strike action.
Simon Clarke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the Government does not “control all the levers” in the dispute and stressed it is for Network Rail, the train operating companies and the unions to resolve the row over pay, jobs and conditions.
Mr Clarke said: “We don’t own the railways ourselves and it wouldn’t be right for us to substitute ourselves for the role of the employer. We recognise these strikes are a huge inconvenience for millions of people.
“I absolutely want them not to go ahead. But it isn’t the case that we can put ourselves into the hot seat in place of the legal employer.”
Mr Clarke’s comments are likely to prompt accusations of the Government washing its hands of the issue, with Labour having accused ministers of not doing enough to avert the strikes which will start tomorrow in what will be the biggest walkout in the industry for more than 30 years.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail (NR) and 13 train operators will strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with only around one in five trains running and disruption to services on days following the action. The RMT and Unite is also holding a 24-hour walkout on London Underground tomorrow.
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