Rail strikes: Grant Shapps says industry is ‘not badly paid’
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The Transport Secretary was caught in a fiery debate concerning the lack of Government involvement in union negotiations as the nation’s transport network is thrown into disarray. Grant Shapps has refused to take part in the formal negotiations with the rail unions involved in the strike despite, by his own admission, the severity of the walkout. The Government Minister suggested that discussions surrounding industrial disputes should be left to the employer, in this case, the rail companies, and the employees, the unions, to discuss without government input. Sky News host Kay Burley criticised the claims of Mr Shapps as she was quick to highlight that the Government is the only shareholder of Network Rail, therefore making the Government heavily involved in its operation and effectively the employer figure in the rail dispute.
Ms Burley said: “The Government is the only shareholder in Network Rail, it belongs to the Government, the Government sets its funding.
“You are involved whether you say you are or not, you’re the Transport Secretary, it’s your responsibility to keep the country running.
“Why aren’t you rolling up your sleeves and sorting it out?”
The Transport Secretary replied: “If I thought there was even a one in a million chance of my being in the room would help sort it out then I would be there.
“Mick Lynch, who is the head of the RMT, said last month that he would never negotiate, in his words, with a Tory Government.”
Mr Shapps continued: “It wouldn’t help, in fact it would actually undermine, for ministers to walk in the room.”
The Transport Secretary suggested additional Government involvement in union negotiations would only further complicate the industrial dispute by introducing another party to the table.
He added: “I think what you’re asking for is for me to go back to the bad old days of the 1970s when the then Labour Prime Minister Haorld Wilson had beer and sandwiches with them in Downing Street and that did not work out well, I don’t think that is the way forward in industrial relations.
“I’m saying the employers are the people with the mandate, they’re the people who need to settle it.”
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Ms Burley fired back at Mr Shapps as she said: “But you are the Transport Secretary, you represent the Government, ergo you represent the travelling public, and they, for the rest of this week, are going to be basically at a standstill.
“As you said, people could die as a result of these strikes.
“You need to roll your sleeves up, you need to get in that meeting room with the unions and you need to sort this out, is what my viewers will be shouting at their televisions this morning.”
The reporter’s reference to the potential tragedy caused by the union strikes concerned an earlier comment by the Transport Secretary which suggested rail customers could miss vital health appointments due to network disruption.
Mr Shapps said: “I don’t think it’s acceptable that people who have waited two years for a hospital appointment today may not be able to get to it.”
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The Transport Secretary continued to refute the suggestion that he should be personally involved in the negotiations which could have prevented the drastic union measures.
“That is not the way that industrial disputes are resolved, they never have been, since the days of beer and sandwiches at Number Ten in the 1970s and it didn’t work out very well then.
“The way that the disputes need to be resolved is always between the employer and the employees, the unions themselves.
Despite Ms Burley’s argument that the Government is “the only shareholder of Network Rail, it belongs to the Government,” the Transport Secretary maintained that ministerial involvement in union negotiations would amount to a return to the “bad old days.”
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