People should prepare for travel chaos as rail strikes are “likely” to occur, a senior minister said.
Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke said he regretted the “misery” the disruption will cause, but it was not up to the government to resolve the dispute behind the sector’s biggest shutdown in more than 30 years.
He told Sky News: “I’m afraid they’re likely to move on…
“I think the audience this week needs to be aware that there will be a very substantial disruption and so it makes sense to make preparations for that.”
The strikes are expected to paralyze services on London’s railways and underground from Tuesday, with increased traffic expected to choke the roads.
“We absolutely do not want them to move forward, I recognize that this will cause misery for millions of people and I am deeply sorry for that,” Clarke told BBC Breakfast.
Ministers faced calls to do more to avoid the three planned one-day strikes this week.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the government was “limping” negotiations between unions and rail operators.
“Right now, without the government there, the negotiations are a farce,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It is not possible for them to find a solution and avoid the dispute without the Government being represented in the talks, defining a mandate for the railway operators and giving real scope to find a solution.
“Without them, it is impossible for them to find a way forward and therefore industrial action is inevitable.”
Clarke said the government would “continue to support” negotiations between rail companies and unions, but that it did not “control all the levers” and that getting involved would “mix things up”.
“Ultimately this is a matter between employers – the train operators and Network Rail – and the unions, and the government does not participate directly in these negotiations for a very good reason – that we do not intervene in a specific process between an employer and the unions that represent employees, but we are there to provide the support and structure that allows these negotiations to be successful.”
He said that the train operators and Network Rail were working to “deliver a sensible reform program and a sensible and fair pay arrangement” with the unions, and that “no one is suggesting that there is any kind of wage freeze needed here.” ”.
With the rail, shipping and transport union calling for a 7% pay rise to keep up with rising prices, Clarke ruled out increases in line with inflation, which the Bank of England predicts will reach 11% in the fall.
“We have an inflation problem in this country … if we don’t want this problem to escalate or prolong, then we need to be sensible about payments,” he said.
The Cabinet minister called for reforms of the country’s “seriously outdated” railway practices.
He said: “We need to see the reform of some of the practices that make our railroad a very unsustainable entity right now.
“It cannot be the case that we have invested £16bn during the pandemic as taxpayers, worth £600 per family, and still have a rail system where part of what happens and where, frankly, the fares are higher than the necessary. be and efficiency is less than it should be because of the way unions operate”.