Senior Tory Jake Berry has broken ranks to warn the government that ‘the only way out of a dispute is through negotiation’ as the country braces for walkouts that would cause massive disruption
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The government should ‘get around the table’ with railway unions for talks and launch a final push to end the ‘cruel’ strikes due to take place this week, a Tory MP has said.
Jake Berry, who chairs the backbench Tories’ Northern Research Group, broke ranks on Sunday to warn ministers that ‘the only way out of a dispute is through negotiation’.
It comes after the RMT union confirmed that strikes at Network Rail and 13 train operators would continue on Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday, and in the London Underground on Tuesday.
Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps have refused to join negotiations and have repeatedly said unions should call off the walkout.
Mr Shapps rejected an RMT call for the government to step in as a ‘stunt’, saying the union had been ‘pulling’ for industrial action for weeks.
But Mr Berry said the government should act so the country can avoid widespread disruption from the three-day walkout.
He said: ‘I am a lawyer by training and I can tell you that the only way out of a dispute is through negotiation.
“I would call on all parties, including the government […] around the table because it’s going to have a huge negative impact on people’s lives,” he added. “I actually just think it’s really cruel as the country is coming out of a really horrible to keep people from reconnecting with their loved ones. I just think it’s a deeply cruel and selfish thing to do.”
Pressed again on whether he thought the government should step in, Mr Berry told Times Radio: “Absolutely. I mean what’s the alternative? The only way to fix this is for people to sit down with, I don’t know, cold beer and sandwiches – I don’t know if they still do that – but sit down and sort it out.
“I represent a low-wage constituency. I understand that low-wage people need a pay rise, not only in the public services, our NHS and in the railways, but also in the private sector.
“And I think what’s needed in this crisis is for people who are relatively well paid, including MPs, to show absolute restraint – [as] we have broad shoulders – and prioritizing those on the lowest salaries who are really struggling to get a decent pay rise, and I think that would be the right approach for the government to take.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the union had no choice but to act after train operators still failed to make a wage offer when talks adjourned on Thursday.
“What else should we do?” Are we going to plead? Are we going to beg? We want to negotiate our future. We want to negotiate,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge program on Sunday.
Mr Shapps, however, said the union had been taking industrial action for weeks and accused it of “punishing” millions of “innocent people” who will be affected by the strikes.
“Of course it’s a reality that if we can’t modernize these railways, if we can’t get the kind of efficiency that means they can work on behalf of the traveling public, then of course that puts jeopardize the future of the railway itself,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“I think it’s a huge act of self-harm to go on strike right now. I don’t believe the workers are as militant as their unions leading them down the garden path. They’re shooting for this strike It’s completely unnecessary.
“There’s a sensible pay deal, there’s a sensible modernization of the railway which would allow a lot more flexibility, but the unions need to understand that the world has changed and people don’t necessarily need to travel the way they did in the past.”
For Labour, Shadow Communities Secretary Lisa Nandy said only the government could now resolve the dispute and stop the strikes from continuing.
“We know what it means when the railways come to a halt, but that is why the government needs to go around the table with cleaners, ticketing staff and station workers to solve this problem, because only they can,” she told the show.
“During the pandemic, they have taken the right to negotiate with the train operating companies, so they are the only ones who can solve this problem and yet they are not ready to do so.
“The biggest problem in this country is not militant workers, it’s militant government.”