Union boss Mick Lynch says rail workers are being pushed towards gig economy as latest strikes begin

3 January 2023, 09:48

Mick Lynch has vowed to stop the railway industry becoming part of the gig economy
Mick Lynch has vowed to stop the railway industry becoming part of the gig economy. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Union boss Mick Lynch has said railway workers are striking to stop the industry being pushed into the gig economy, where staff are "at the beck and call" of employers, as another walkout takes place this week.

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Tuesday, RMT chief Mr Lynch said his members were "fighting for their future" - and the future of the whole rail industry - as the five-day rail strike began.

And he warned that proposed new laws curbing the right of rail workers and people in other industries to strike could be "illegal" and that RMT and other unions would be willing to challenge any new legislation.

Mr Lynch said that his members were "fully committed" to the strikes, despite the pay they are losing when they walk out.

He said: "They voted twice for this and they’re out today, taking effective action, which is regrettable. Our members will heed the call because they’re fighting for their future, and the future of this industry, what it’s going to be like."

Nick Ferrari speaks to RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch

Mr Lynch added: "We’ve seen what happens when people get outsourced, in cleaning and catering and in the construction industry - in all sorts of places where there are no conditions associated with the work.

"We’ve seen people working for the logistics companies… who’ve had their conditions driven into the gutter - and we don’t want to go there."

The anti-strike legislation would mean rail workers have to ensure that 20% of train services run even during strikes, and require any walk outs to be backed by 50% of all members.

It comes against the backdrop of widespread rail strikes in December and January, as well as many days earlier in the year, causing much disruption and frustration for passengers.

Railway workers have been on strike for much of December and January
Railway workers have been on strike for much of December and January. Picture: Getty

The new legislation could be tabled when MPs return on January 9, although it would take months to be passed into law and would likely be challenged by unions, as Mr Lynch suggested.

The union boss said: "What they’re effectively doing is stopping the right to strike, which is a civil right and a human right and it’s possibly illegal under the international labour conventions.

"That cannot be allowed… that will mean they just have to put up with what they’re given, and that will mean that we’re unable to campaign against poverty in this country, campaign against the ripping out of workers’ rights, and many other measures.

"And a society without free trade unions is not a free society. So we’ve got to fight that and if it takes legal action, we’ll look at that along with the TUC [trades union congress] and others."

Zoe Williams is infuriated by the 'lack of responsibility' UK rail carriers take

It comes after the head of the FDA, the civil servants' union, said any new law "would be a political choice for the prime minister, but it’s not going to resolve [the strikes].

Dave Penman said: “Tinkering with what are already some of the most draconian trade union laws in western economies are not going to address the fundamental problems around this.”

A spokesperson for the government said: "Anything we bring forward will rightfully balance the rights of workers to strike with the rights of the public to get on with their daily lives and keep people safe."

The RMT and ASLEF, the rail drivers' union, are locked in a months-long dispute with railway operators and the government over pay and conditions.

Transport secretary Mark Harper
Transport secretary Mark Harper. Picture: Getty

But transport secretary Mark Harper told LBC on Tuesday that an agreement with the unions was getting closer.

He said: "I'd much rather we got the RMT off of the picket line and back round the negotiating table sooner rather than later. There's a fair and reasonable offer on the table.”

And he warned: "I don't blame unions wanting more money, but it has to be balanced about what's fair… There's not a bottomless pit of taxpayers money".

But Mr Lynch countered that agreements between railway operators and the union had been "vetoed" by the government.

"It goes back to Whitehall for approval and they veto what the companies are saying to us," he said.

Rail strikes have caused widespread train cancellations
Rail strikes have caused widespread train cancellations. Picture: Getty

"They said just before Christmas that we want to make you an offer, they change the offer at the last minute on the Sunday afternoon, when we worked through the weekend to get to an agreement, and they made it impossible for us to make an agreement, they made it impossible to for ASLEF to make that agreement.

"They will never accept the stipulations and nor will we about driver only operation…. If you put a red line, throw a stink bomb into the room in effect, you know that’s not going to help the discussion…

"So I’m hoping that the new year will bring a new attitude from the government, and we can work with them and get towards a settlement."

Mr Lynch with RMT workers
Mr Lynch with RMT workers. Picture: Getty

RMT members are striking on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, with ASLEF members walking out on Thursday.

Passengers have been warned they face significant disruption over the rest of this week amid the train strike, with only around 20% of national rail services expected to to be operating on RMT strike days, typically between 7.30am to 6.30pm.

The strike by Aslef members on Thursday result in fewer trains running, with no services across most of the 15 operators where drivers are striking.

Read more: Back to work hit by strikes: Commuters face days of travel chaos with fresh walkouts on Tuesday

Read more: Civil servants threaten to coordinate strikes as union leader warns some workers are skipping meals

Passengers have been advised only to travel if it's absolutely necessary, and Network Rail has advised that people check online to get updates on when trains will run.

People at Euston Station on Tuesday morning as strikes resumed
People at Euston Station on Tuesday morning as strikes resumed. Picture: Getty

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Passengers have rightly had enough of rail strikes and want the disruption to end.

“The government has demonstrated it is being reasonable and stands ready to facilitate a resolution to rail disputes. It’s time the unions came to the table and played their part as well.

“Inflation-matching pay increases for all public sector workers would cost everyone more in the long term – worsening debt, fuelling inflation, and costing every household an extra £1,000.

“Unions should step back from this strike action so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging dispute.”

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