New TUC leader calls for meeting with Rishi Sunak over strike

The new leader of the TUC has demanded an urgent meeting with the prime minister in an attempt to end the strikes which have caused widespread disruption to rail travel, the NHS and other public services.

Paul Novak, who took over as TUC general secretary on 29 December, said frontline workers needed a “fair deal” and called on the government to change policy by opening wage talks with unions.

Novak’s plea for Rishi Sunak came after another day of industrial action on the railways, as the return to work after the Christmas holidays was severely disrupted by a fresh round of strikes.

In a letter to Sunak, Novak described public services as in crisis after years of “underfunding and understaffing”, causing experienced but discouraged public sector workers in sectors including schools and hospitals to consider leaving their jobs.

He wrote: “We cannot solve these problems without a fair deal for the people on the frontline.

“That means talking openly and constructively about reforming public sector pay. But so far your ministers have refused to negotiate directly with unions about pay.”

In his first week in the job, Novak called on Sunak to take the “mature approach” seen during the pandemic, when the then-chancellor sided with unions and protected millions of jobs.

He said there could be no resolution of industrial disputes without ministers meeting with union leaders to discuss ways to increase wages of workers.

“We want to find solutions to the current disputes so that our public service workers can do the jobs they love. And so our public services can begin to improve for all who depend on them.”

The start of a fresh 48-hour strike by rail workers belonging to the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union on Tuesday marked the beginning of five consecutive days of national industrial action.

More industrial action is planned for the end of the month by workers in the NHS and civil service as well as the transport sector.

Around 40,000 RMT members and 14 train operating companies at Network Rail are striking for two 48-hour periods from Tuesday to Wednesday and again from Friday.

Rail passengers have been advised to try to travel only if absolutely necessary, as the RMT strike will shut down most of the UK rail network, leaving only skeleton services for commuters on urban and intercity lines.

Network Rail predicted that only around 20% of trains would run on strike days, with scheduled hours of operation reduced to between 7.30am and 6.30am.

Among the RMT members taking part in the strike are signaling workers, meaning that much of the railway in Wales, Scotland and less populated parts of England will not run at all. Meanwhile, only one train is likely to run every hour on major routes.

On Thursday, the day between the two RMT strikes, train drivers in the Asleaf union will also take action 24 hours a day. The drivers’ strike promises even more disruption, and some of the 15 operators affected will have no trains at all, including Southeastern, Thameslink, Avanti and Transpennine Express.

Downing Street expressed optimism after Network Rail’s chief negotiator said a solution could be found after a week of action by railway workers.

A No 10 source said fresh talks on the dispute are expected to take place this week.

The source said that while there were still some outstanding issues, the strike on the railways was seen as a public sector dispute, which was likely to be resolved first.

However, the government still has no timetable for releasing further details about its plans to pass a law to make public sector strikes more difficult, such as setting statutory minimum service standards for railways. To apply.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tim Shoveler, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, suggested rail workers’ pay offer would not be improved, but said better communication about the deal would start to win over union members.

Shoveler said: “We only need 2,000 people who didn’t vote last time to change their vote and the deal will pass.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that more RMT members were returning to their roles, but said this was “not the way to solve the problem or the dispute”.

However, the leader of the RMT reaffirmed the union’s commitment to strike action until it received a fair wage offer, warning that it had a mandate for industrial action to last until May.

Speaking from a picket line at London’s Euston station, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch also blamed the government for stalling an agreement, saying there had been “an unprecedented level of ministerial interference”.

The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, denied that the government had blocked any way to a deal. Harper told Sky News: “There is a fair and reasonable pay offer on the table. There is not a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money here.

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