Rail unions have said plans announced by the chancellor to limit the scope of strikes and pay negotiations will further “rash” their members, ahead of a period of sustained industrial action.
On Friday, Kwasi Kwarteng announced moves not only to ensure minimum levels of service during transport strikes, which oblige unions to ensure trains run, but also to legislate to require unions to put any wage offers from employers to a vote.
With strikes expected to halt most train services at the start of the Conservative conference in early October, the chancellor told the Commons that the disruption caused was unacceptable.
He said other European countries had minimum service levels to stop “militant unions” and the UK government would do the same “and go further”.
Mr Kwarteng said: “We will legislate to require unions to put pay offers to a membership vote to ensure strikes can only be called once negotiations have truly broken down.”
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, said: “We already have the strictest anti-democratic trade union laws in Western Europe and this latest threat will rightly enrage our members.
“The government should work towards a negotiated settlement in the national rail dispute, and not try to make it even more difficult to take effective strike action. Unions will not sit idly by or meekly accept further obstacles to their members’ ability to exercise the basic human right to withdraw their work.”
Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA union, which confirmed it would join the October strikes on Friday, said: “This new Tory proposal will only serve to prolong disputes and generate more anger among union members. It will do nothing to encourage employers to come to the negotiating table with realistic offers.”
However, railway bosses have expressed frustration that employees have not been able to vote on pay offers during negotiations.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines – whose annual net pay on his £588,000 salary will rise by £20,000 due to another move announced by Kwarteng, to remove top income tax – said: “Our latest offer – a pay rise of 8% over two years with other benefits – is manageable within our own budget, but the RMT refuses to let members vote on it.
“The decision by unions to strike again only serves to prolong the disruption for passengers, undermine the railway’s recovery from the pandemic and ensure that rail staff lose even more of their pay unnecessarily.”