Transport Secretary Mark Harper says crunch talks with unions to end rail strikes were productive 

‘I want this dispute resolved soon’: Transport Secretary Mark Harper says crunch talks with unions to end rail strikes were productive

  • Transport Secretary Mark Harper vowed to stand firm against rail union chiefs 
  • He wants a ‘speedy’ resolution to dispute over ‘unaffordable’ RMT pay request
  • Meeting with union’s boss Mick Lynch was ‘constructive and productive’, he said
  • This week the militant RMT union threw the Christmas plans of millions into chaos by calling four 48-hour strikes between December 13 and January 7 

The Transport Secretary has vowed to stand firm against striking rail union chiefs, saying he won’t ‘hand over enormous sums of taxpayers’ money’ to end the crisis. 

Mark Harper said yesterday he wanted a ‘speedy’ resolution to the dispute but added that the militant RMT union’s pay demands were unaffordable.

In a glimmer of hope that millions could be saved from a Christmas of chaos, he said the two sides weren’t ‘a million miles away’ from a deal and that one was possible in the coming days.

In his first newspaper interview since taking the role, he also vowed to end ‘antiquated’ working practices which mean nine workers are sent to menial tasks such as changing a plug socket.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said yesterday he wanted a 'speedy' resolution to the dispute but added that the militant RMT union's pay demands were unaffordable

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said yesterday he wanted a ‘speedy’ resolution to the dispute but added that the militant RMT union’s pay demands were unaffordable

Mr Harper spoke to the Daily Mail after an hour-long crunch meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch, which he said was ‘constructive and productive’ and injected new life into the talks.

It came as waves of industrial action gripped other sectors in a glimpse of what a ‘winter of discontent’ may look like if other disputes aren’t resolved. Royal Mail postal workers started the first of 11 days of walkouts on various dates between yesterday and Christmas Eve. Lecturers started three days of strikes at 150 universities and the Royal College of Nursing announced that thousands of nurses will walk out on December 15 and 20.

Teachers in Scotland went on strike yesterday, closing nearly every primary and secondary school in the country. Teachers in England are also being balloted on industrial action and civil servants will start walkouts from next month. The Unite union said 188 workers at brewers Greene King will walk out for five days from December 5.

This week the militant RMT union threw the Christmas plans of millions into chaos by calling four 48-hour strikes between December 13 and January 7. There will also be an overtime ban between December 18 and January 2, meaning there could be hundreds of last-minute cancellations. Train operators rely on staff working overtime to run a full timetable.

Mr Harper spoke to the Daily Mail after an hour-long crunch meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch, which he said was 'constructive and productive' and injected new life into the talks.

Mr Harper spoke to the Daily Mail after an hour-long crunch meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch, which he said was ‘constructive and productive’ and injected new life into the talks.

The RMT is demanding pay increases in line with inflation, currently 11 per cent. But Mr Harper said it would be wrong to cave into the demands.

He said: ‘You could solve the dispute very quickly if you simply just handed over enormous sums of taxpayers’ money.

‘But that would be the wrong thing to do. It would also be the wrong precedent to set for all of the disputes that are going on.

‘The difficulty for the Government is, yes, I want the dispute resolved as soon as it sensibly can be, and I absolutely care about the travelling public and all of those businesses impacted. But I’m also charged with looking after the interests of the taxpayer – both taxpayers that use the railways and taxpayers that don’t.’

The planned rail strikes in December will cost the hospitality sector £1.5 billion a day, UKHospitality said yesterday.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘This disruption will devastate hospitality businesses during their busiest time of the year.’

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