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THE government has squandered almost £5 billion in taxpayers’ money attempting to defeat strikes by rail workers, the RMT said today as it staged another walkout.
Profiteering rail operators have been handed hundreds of millions of pounds to compensate them for ticket sales lost during strike action, on top of hundreds of millions regularly given to them to subsidise their inefficient services.
The cost of settling the strikes was believed in January to be less than £1bn — a fraction of the sum it has spent in long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Marking the first anniversary of the year-long dispute RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has written to all MPs appealing them to call on the government end the insanity by allowing the workers a fair pay settlement.
And he said the strike has had the effect of stopping in their tracks operators’ plans for thousands of job losses, ticket office closures and maintenance cuts which would threaten lives.
He blamed the government for Friday’s strike action by RMT members “because workers, passengers and taxpayers are being asked to pay the price for the government’s disastrous mismanagement of the economy and public transport.
“Rather than deliver a plan to improve public transport and the economy, we have seen three prime ministers preside over a year of chaos since the first strike action in June 2022,” he said.
“In contrast, there is no strike action on railways controlled by the Scottish and Welsh governments because these governments have adopted a fair and less ideological approach to industrial relations.
“Instead of working to end the dispute, amidst a cost-of-living crisis it appears to have no idea how to tackle, the UK government has spent the last year squandering billions of pounds on a futile war against the rail unions, all in the name of delivering reforms that passengers do not want.
“The cumulative cost of this disastrous strategy is now estimated at £5bn.
“While passengers want more assistance and support the government are insisting there must be less staff on stations and trains.
“While businesses and unions want an agreement, the government insist the cost to the economy of strike action is a price worth paying.
“While the public want transport run in the public interest, the government are protecting the vested interests and vast profits of the privatised railway.”
He said rail workers had delivered their verdict on the government’s mismanagement of the dispute by voting overwhelmingly for strike action three times.
“As we reach the anniversary of the first strike action, I would urge you to write to the Prime Minister to demand the government change course and facilitate an improved offer that will protect staffing and services and deliver a fairer deal for rail workers,” said Mr Lynch.
RMT says the £5bn cost of the strike to taxpayers is a “conservative estimate” on the basis of compensation for lost ticket sales, £900m, cost to economy of lost days of work, £757m, and loss of revenue to UK hospitality industry, £3,25m, totalling £4.907bn.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, whose members are also taking strike action after four years of no pay rises, said there was “no waning in enthusiasm” among members for the strike.
“We are determined to get a resolution and remain in this for the long haul,” he said, calling for a pay increase of at least 10 per cent.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The government has facilitated a fair and reasonable pay offer; now union leaders must do the right thing and put this to their members.”
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