Grant Shapps oversteps his mark threatening Rail Unions with “section 188” to force through changes

Mick Lynch Grant Shapps
Mick Lynch once offered "Trial By Combat" To Grant Shapps

The Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has announced he will impose new contracts on railway workers, effectively ‘fire and re-hire’ on worse conditions, unless RMT calls off strike action.

Grant Shapps has told union bosses to “get out of the way” and allow members to vote on newly proposed pay deals.

It comes as fresh strikes take place on London Underground and the capital’s bus system, while national rail is set for more disruption today.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Shapps, the transport secretary, claimed union leaders were not putting proposed pay offers to their members.

The Tory minister told Sky News that if the dispute cannot be settled “we will have to move to what’s called a Section 188, it’s a process of actually requiring these changes to go into place”. 

The national strikes are related to pay rises and proposed modernisation changes, of course, in this case, the use of the term modernisation is an anti-worker smear, Eddie Dempsey explains that RMT is in favour of new technology that keeps their members safe. However, they are not in favour of modernisation that brings about automatic redundancies when those loyal workers could just as really be retrained or moved into other jobs within the industry.

Asked by Sky News if compulsory redundancies were on the table for rail workers, Grant Shapps only repeated accusations that it was “union barons” to blame for failing to put offers to their members.

“The deal that is on the table actually means largely no compulsory redundancies at all,” Shapps said of one offer. “If [the unions] are not prepared to put that deal to your membership we will never know whether members would accept it.”

Obviously the use of the words largely no compulsory redundancies means there will definitely be compulsory redundancies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that Mr Shapps had no authority to issue Section 188 notifications as he was not the legal employer but now seems intent on forcing through fire and re-hire on rail workers despite previously claiming that he had nothing to do with negotiations between the employers and the unions.

“Despite his denials, Mr Shapps has clearly been dictating how the train companies should conduct negotiations with RMT and now he’s ordering them to fire and re-hire workers.

“The minister also appears to be increasingly desperate and out-of-touch making wild claims about train services between London and Manchester without having a clue what is actually happening.

“Instead of threatening to cut thousands of safety-critical jobs, introducing driver-only trains, closing ticket offices, bailing out the private rail companies as well as bringing in more anti-union laws the government and the employers should enter meaningful negotiations with RMT,” he said.

Perhaps in the end it will come to a trial by combat as Mick Lynch once famously said when asked whether there is any other alternative to the rail strikes, the general secretary of the RMT union said: “I could do trial by combat… but I can’t think of [another] way at the moment because we’ve been negotiating for two years. “But it would be interesting if me and Grant Shapps went head-to-head, if that’s not too flippant.”

The train strike still enjoys huge public support.

On Friday, a strike by Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) workers on the underground in London over issues including jobs and pensions went ahead supported by huge backing from the general public who understand this fight is also our fight.

ASLEF have also had fantastic support, some of its members have not had a pay rise in over 2 years, this has been a diabolical situation for most workers both in the public and private sectors.

Yet, the Robber barons of the railways along with energy and utility companies have seen astronomical amounts of public money subsidising not only their bank accounts but their shareholders the majority of which are state-owned by other countries.

Industry Facts and Stats

  • Before the pandemic, operators were paying out dividends of £262 million to shareholders. Even in the year of the pandemic they paid out £38 million. As passenger numbers go back up, so will the bumper payouts.
  • Between March 2020 and March 2021 operators were paid management fees of over £132 million.
  • Rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which own the trains – often commissioned and developed with public money – and lease them back to the operators, received £3 billion in 2020-21. This is a 5% increase from 2019-20, and double what they made in 2015-16.
  • ROSCOs have made huge profits. This has particularly been the case during the pandemic, when profits were guaranteed by the taxpayer. In 2020, the ROSCO Eversholt paid a £46.5 million dividend. Porterbrook paid out £80 million in dividends. ROSCOs invest very little money into the industry but reap huge profits out of it.
  • 9 of the top 10 highest earning public sector individuals (senior civil servants and officials in departments, agencies and non-departmental bodies) are from the transport industry. 8 out of 10 are from rail. Top of the list if Mark Thurston, Chief Executive of HS2, who earns £620,000. Next is Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, who is on £585,000.
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