Ministers are considering toughening anti-strike laws designed to curb strikes on railways with passengers facing the prospect of industrial action at Christmas.
One of the measures being considered in Whitehall is understood to be to revive former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ plan to make it harder for unions to win support for strikes.
Currently, unions in important public services such as health, education and transport need the support of 40 percent of the entire workforce for a strike to go ahead.
Ms Truss has pledged to change the law to increase this to 50 per cent, half of the workforce, voting ‘yes’ for a strike to take place.
The Government is already planning legislation to guarantee minimum levels of service on the railways, although I understand that the plans are fraught with potential difficulties.
Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that it was proceeding with laws for minimum service levels, and is believed to be considering toughening the laws as unions threaten to wreak havoc on the railways over the festive period.
But the prime minister’s official spokesman Rishi Sunak was forced on Tuesday to defend the delays in the relevant legislation, which was initially promised in 2019, stressing that “it is something we are proceeding with as quickly as parliamentary time allows.” .
Pressed on whether the rapid turnover of prime ministers and transport secretaries in recent months has played a role, he said: “I think the global pandemic was the biggest impact on this legislation.”
The bills are not expected to appear in Parliament before Christmas, meaning it is likely to be months before the government makes good on its Tory manifesto promise to legislate to limit the impact of strikes on the railways.
It came as No 10 urged Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, to call off strikes over the festive period, including a strike between Christmas Eve and December 27 targeting railway works. Network Rail engineering which, however, threatens to ruin travel plans.
Number 10 urged the RMT to accept Network Rail’s offer of a 4 per cent pay increase to follow this year’s 5 per cent, and no mandatory redundancies until 2025, rather than the “unaffordable” double-digit demands of the union
The railway network and infrastructure operator has financed its offer with existing budgets.
But it is understood that meeting higher demands could require a larger taxpayer subsidy, which the Treasury is likely to oppose, or higher rates, which the government has promised to keep below inflation when annual rate increases are announced. next weeks. .
Lynch insisted that he did not want the strikes to continue before Christmas given the damage it could cause to the UK hotel industry, but argued that his members are being forced to act because the government does not give train operators the mandate to improve their offers in payment and conditions.
Meanwhile, a planned meeting between RMT and Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents private companies that operate services, failed to materialize on Tuesday, prompting Lynch to insist that strikes planned for next week and in the New Year among the train staff are “ahead”.
Lynch expects to meet the RDG on Wednesday and the chances of avoiding the train disruption next week are now considered slim at best as timetables are beginning to be set.
It came as a YouGov poll suggested public opinion might be against strikes, with half of Britons opposing strikes between Christmas Eve and December 27 and 37 percent supporting them.