The railway industry is in “crisis” amid the failure of the franchise system, a union leader has warned.
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, has said a number of train operators are on the brink of “collapse”. He told a meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool that the current system of public service contracts meant companies did not have to shoulder any financial risks.
The union boss commented: “It is a one-way ticket to profit. It’s gangsterism.” His words come just before another series of train strikes are set to see the UK’s travel services grind to a halt, causing chaos for commuters, as workers protest over pay, pensions and working conditions.
Mr Lynch also recently told the new Transport Secretary Anne Marie-Trevelyan that he believes the industry is in crisis when met her recently. The meeting was organised amid the growing unrest amongst rail workers, with the long-running dispute between train companies and unions showing no signs of concluding any time soon.
The RMT General Secretary said the meeting was a “step forward”, but that no real progress was made, commenting: “It only means she can tick a box. Nothing has changed. There was no outcome, and we will continue with our campaign.”
He also made a passionate case for the public ownership of transport and urged Labour to support the idea.
He said: “Money is being made every day while we are being told to accept austerity. Public ownership has got to be part of everything we do and we have to keep Labour’s top table under pressure to support that.”
Shadow rail minister Tan Dhesi said under a Labour government the railways would be taken back into public ownership.
Ahead of the start of the party conference, Labour leader Keir Starmer also addressed the ongoing strikes and claimed he would lead the “most pro-trade union Labour government you have ever seen”. It may have been a surprise to some, given the Holborn and St Pancras MP’s recent clashes with unions. He also promised voters a Green Paper on workplace rights within 100 days of an election victory.
Meanwhile, the Government revealed on Friday (23 September) that it would be cracking down on striking workers. In his mini budget announcement, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said he would introduce legislation to force trade unions to put pay offers to a member vote, meaning strikes can only be called once negotiations have fully broken down.
The Government will also force transport companies to maintain a minimum level of service during strike action. “It is simply unacceptable that strike action is disrupting so many lives,” the Chancellor said. “Other European countries have Minimum Service Levels to stop militant trade unions closing down transport networks during strikes. So we will do the same.”
RMT recently announced that 40,000 of its members at Network Rail and 15 train operators will walk out on 8 October. This came after some strikes were postponed to observe the period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.