Mark Harper warns train strikes are political
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has warned if unions target the Conservative Party conference this autumn with strikes it will prove their motivations are political.
In a direct challenge, to the militant ASLEF and the RMT unions, Mr Harper also warned that their continued industrial action, which has carried on for more than a year, will harm the rail industry and see the unions’ members lose their jobs.
Mr Harper was speaking to the Daily Express as he launched national maritime week at an event on the River Thames, highlighting a new electric power boat designed and built in Northern Ireland.
But while he hailed how the new technology could see Britain become a “global leader” as a shipping nation, he warned that strike action by rail workers will only accelerate their decline of trains.
He admitted that he “would not be surprised” if the unions attempted to disrupt the Conservative Party conference with more strikes.
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Mr Harper said: “If they target our conference, then it’ll be very clear it is political.
“Fundamentally, I want railway workers to get a decent pay rise, there’s a fair and reasonable offer on the table RMT members that work for train operating companies.
“It’s the same offer pretty much as they accepted their members accepted for Network Rail where we resolved the dispute.
“I would ask them to put that offer to their members that their members make a decision.”
He added: “For train drivers, the payoff for on the table will take the average salary of your train driver to £65,000 a year for 35 hours a week.
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“I think most Daily Express readers think that was very reasonable. Again, they should put it to their members.”
But warning about the future of the industry, Mr Harper said he had warned the unions that government subsidies propping up the industry cannot continue if strikes prevent rail recovering from the pandemic and lockdown.
He said: “Post pandemic, the number of people using the rail network is about 50 percent lower and revenues are about 30 percent lower.
“I want to fix that by encouraging more people to use trains to come back onto the railways to close that gap, they’re not going to do so if they keep being disrupted by strike action.
“And fundamentally, the way you protect the jobs, and the pay of the people that work in the rail industry is by getting more people to use rail.
“They’re not going to do that if they’re going on strike.”
The government has already pushed through new legislation on railworkers and other providing a minimum service during strike action.
However, there are concerns that this may not be enough to prevent massive disruption.
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