Major unions are urging the government to ‘bypass the table’ ahead of nationwide railway strikes

Britain’s major unions are collectively calling on the government to ‘bypass’ the negotiating table to try to find a solution, 24 hours before the biggest strike on the rail network in decades.

In a letter to Grant Shapps, the secretaries general of 14 unions – which together represent millions of workers, including government officials, shopkeepers, teachers and NHS staff – warned that ministers must stop their “attempt to divide workers”.

The Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady, one of the signatories of the letter, also accused the government of “blowing fire” in the dispute, insisting that ministers had the power to help find a settlement.

It comes after Mr Shapps, the transport secretary, warned the country’s largest railway association that the disruption would be a “major act of self-harm” for the industry, claiming the unions had “shot” into action that would “punish” millions of innocent people ” .

Shapps also said that calls from the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) to ministers to intervene in workers’ relations negotiations were a “stunt”, adding that only the union and the employer would be able to resolve the conflict.

Without an 11-hour resolution, members of RMT, which works for Network Rail and for 13 train operators, will go out this week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. They will be joined on the first day of action by workers on the London Underground.

In the letter to Mr Shapps, the Secretaries-General of 14 unions, including the National Education Union (NEU), Unison, Unite, GMB and the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), said: “The trade union movement will never accept attempts to separate workers.

“With household bills and prices skyrocketing, workers will obviously seek to defend jobs, wages and conditions. The right to withdraw your work is a fundamental British freedom.”

They called on the government to intervene, adding: “Our railway union is seeking a negotiated solution to this dispute and we urge you to get around the table with unions and employers to help deliver a fair solution.”

Ms O’Grady also claimed that ministers are “desperate to put workers against workers” in the bitter struggle.

In recent days, individual prime ministers along with the Conservative Party have tried to label the labor struggle “Labor strikes” in social media posts, claiming that the action will “prevent doctors, nurses and patients from getting to the hospital”.

But Mrs O’Grady said: “Instead of breathing into the fire of this conflict, the government should work in good faith to find a negotiated solution. They have the power to do this.”

In a separate letter to Mr Shapps, Labor’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said “you can not wash your hands responsibly”. She added: “The only way to resolve this is for your government to stop boycotting the negotiations and get around the table. With only 24 hours left, it’s time to show some leadership to avoid the strike.”

Speaking on Sky News Sophy Ridge on Sunday However, Shapps said: “The unions know that only the union and the employer can solve this. I will not cut it.”

Grant Shapps says the RMT union is ‘shooting’ for strikes

He claimed: “This is an 11th hour stunt by the union that suddenly came forward and said ‘We have to negotiate with the government now’, even though they told me last month that they would not be seen dead in negotiations with the government. government. “

The Cabinet Minister added: “I think it is a huge act of self-harm to go on strike at the moment. I do not believe that the workers anywhere are as militant as their unions leading them up the garden path. They are shooting for this strike. It is completely unnecessary. ”

But Tory MP Jake Berry, chairman of the influential Northern Research Group (NRG) of the backbench Conservatives, urged the government and other parties to “get around the table” to prevent the “major negative impact” of the planned strike.

RMT union leader accuses Grant Shapps of ‘producing’ details during negotiations

He told Times Radio: “What’s the alternative? The only way it’s done is by people sitting down with, I do not know, cold beers and sandwiches. I do not know if they still do it anymore. But sits down and fixes this. ”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport said: “The unions know that negotiations on wages and working methods are not happening with the government – they are happening with the employers of the people they represent.

“In this case, it’s Network Rail and the train operators, so even an hour spent talking to ministers would just be time to talk to the people they really need.

“Ministers remain extremely close to the issues on both sides of this conflict and the latest in the ongoing discussions that are taking place. We will once again call on the unions to prioritize negotiations and cancel these unnecessary strikes.”

On Sunday, Mick Lynch, general secretary of RMT, insisted the union had no choice but to act as train operators had still not made a pay offer when the talks were postponed Thursday.

“What else should we do? Should we pray? Should we beg? We want to negotiate our future. We want to negotiate,” he told Sky News.

He also suggested that there would be more strikes if there was no settlement, warning that unions representing other sectors across the country could vote “because people can no longer hold it”.

“We have people doing full-time work who have to take government services and use food banks. It is a national disgrace, ”he said.

Kevin Courtney, the Joint Secretary-General of the National Education Union representing teachers, also spoke The observer over the weekend that his union planned to vote over its members unless it received a wage offer that was much closer to the inflation rate by Wednesday.

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