anger when the UK government refuses to participate in last-minute negotiations

anger when the UK government refuses to participate in last-minute negotiations

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The government is facing growing anger over its refusal to participate in last-minute talks to avert the biggest rail strike in three decades, with millions facing a week of canceled trains and union leaders saying industrial action could spread.

With 40,000 rail workers due to participate in three one-day strikes this week, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, insisted it was not the government’s job to negotiate with unions over wages, conditions, job cuts and safety.

But Jake Berry, a Conservative MP and former rail minister, was among those who said ministers should turn the tables on Network Rail – which is owned by the government – ​​train operators and unions.

The Labor Party demanded that ministers abandon the boycott of the talks, which continued on Sunday in a bid to stop the threatened action.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also asked the government to adopt a positive role in the rail dispute instead of “inflaming tensions”. “The government has the power to help end this dispute,” said Frances O’Grady, secretary general of the TUC.

The strike is due to start on Tuesday, followed by more strike days on Thursday and Saturday, with the RMT unionists leaving. Because of the interruption, a special schedule will be in operation from Monday, with some night services interrupted, until Sunday. About 20% of trains will run on main lines and urban areas.

RMT and Unite are also holding a separate 24-hour shutdown for London Underground workers on Tuesday, which will cause massive disruption to the Underground.

There have been several warnings from union leaders in recent weeks about the prospect of more industrial stocks this year because the wage deals are far behind inflation by more than 10%. Caregivers, civil servants, teachers and garbage collectors are among those who can vote on strikes in the coming months.

Related: UK average wages fall at fastest pace in over two decades

Mick Lynch, secretary general of the RMT, also raised the prospect of an ongoing program of train strikes if there is no resolution to the dispute. He told Sky News: “If there is no deal, we will continue our campaign.”

He said: “I think there will be a lot of unions voting across the country because people can’t take it anymore. We have people working full-time who need to receive state benefits and use food banks. This is a national shame.”

On Sunday night, a rail industry source said there was a “sliver of hope” for a resolution, with talks between the rail industry and unions continuing well into the evening, after starting at 2pm. However, the two sides still seemed distant on many key issues.

The strikes also involve rail cleaners, customer service assistants and box office workers, who earn far less than the average wage of railroad workers and could lose most of their income in real-term pay cuts.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transportation secretary, wrote to Shapps on Sunday night to say: “The only way to resolve this is for your government to stop boycotting the negotiations and turn the table around.

“Patients, schoolchildren, underpaid workers and passengers need a resolution – and they won’t forgive the government if they don’t lift a finger to resolve this.”

Keir Starmer accused Shapps of wanting strikes to continue to sow division – an allegation that the transport secretary called “madness”.

Speaking at a local government conference on Sunday, the Labor leader said: “They want the country to stop so they can feed on division. Instead of spending their time this week around the negotiating table, they are designing attack ads.

“Instead of adult conversations to take the heat out of the situation, they are pouring gasoline on the fire. Instead of uniting people in the national interest, they are fueling division in their political interest.”

But Shapps insisted that the RMT union’s request for a meeting was a “coup” and that the union was “determined to go on strike”.

“What kind of crazy world would anyone want to see our transportation industry stop in?” he said, highlighting students who cannot make it to exams and people who are likely to miss hospital appointments and struggle to get to work.

He told the BBC that the RMT was “nostalgic for the power of unions in the 1970s, when they used to go for sandwiches at number 10 – let’s not go back to those days”.

Conservatives have consistently tried to link the union-backed Labor Party with the strikes, though Starmer has repeatedly emphasized that he thinks strikes should not happen.

The planned strikes will mean six days of disruption, with trains limited to one per hour between 7:30 am and 6:30 pm on major intercity and urban routes. Services will start later and will be reduced on subsequent days.

The action is being carried out by Network Rail employees and on-board and station staff who work for 13 train operators in England.

The RMT said thousands of jobs are at risk in maintenance roles and that box office closures are planned in addition to a wage freeze during a period of high inflation.

The Sunday Times reported this weekend that there are plans to close all box offices by September in a bid to save £500m.

The stoppage of flags will have the biggest impact, particularly in more rural areas – leading to the closure of lines in places like Wales, where there is no direct dispute with the train operator. Most operators told passengers to travel only if necessary on strike days. Northern Rail advised passengers not to try to travel all week.

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