Rail union leaders say action can continue ‘for long haul’ and say they are further from a resolution than when strikes started – live

Rail unions ‘further away than when we started’ from resolution to train strikes, MPs told

Q: How close are you to an agreement, on a scale of 1 to 10?

Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, says:

I think you can include zero. We’re further away than when we started.

Frank Ward, the TSSA general secretary, says he would not disagree with that.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, says he would not be able to say.

We haven’t got an agreement. Until we get an agreement we’re not close to it.

But he says if there is no agreement, they cannot be close to one, and there is no agreement, he says.

Iain Stewart, the committee chair, says that is not as optimistic as he was hoping for.

Key events

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Andrew Bridgen has Tory whip removed after comparing Covid vaccine programme to Holocaust

Turning away from the transport committee hearing for a moment, Andrew Bridgen has had the Tory whip withdrawn for spreading misinformation about the safety of Covid vaccines on social media. Simon Hart, the chief whip, has issued a statement saying:

Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process. As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme.

The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. I am therefore removing the Whip from Andrew Bridgen with immediate effect, pending a formal investigation.

Bridgen has been tweeting conspiracy theory nonsense about Covid for some time now, and it is surprising that the party did not take action against him earlier. But this morning Bridgen made his suspension inevitable by comparing the vaccine programme to the Holocaust.

It is almost as if Bridgen wanted to get suspended.

Unless the whip is restored before the next election (which this morning seems unlikely), Bridgen will not be able to stand as a Conservative candidate at the next election.

On Monday MPs voted to suspend him from the Commons for five days for breaking rules on paid lobbying and declaring interests.

Montgomery says the Rail Delivery Group has another meeting with the unions tomorrow. But he says he cannot say what might be proposed in advance, because that would be disrespectful to the unions.

We have updated the post at 10.08am to include video of Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, laughing at the suggestion that he is taking orders from the Labour party as to how to handle the rail dispute. You may have to update the page to get it to appear.

Rail Delivery Group and Network Rail less negative about prospects of resolving dispute than unions

At the transport committee the session with the three union leaders is over. The committee is now taking evidence from the employers’ side. The two witnesses are Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group (which represents the train operating companies), and Tim Shoveller, chief negotiator for Network Rail.

Iain Stewart, the committee chair, starts with the same question he put to the union leaders: how close are they to a deal? (See 9.36am.)

Montgomery says, with the RMT and the TSSA, the RDG has got a chance to move forward and so there is a “reasonable” chance of being close to a deal.

But he says, with Aslef, they are further away from a deal.

Shoveller says that, with Network Rail, 36% of RMT members wanted to take the last deal that was on offer. He says just 2,000 members need to change their mind for that to become a majority.

Montgomery and Shoveller are both more optimistic about the prospects of a resolution than the union leaders were.

UPDATE: Shoveller said:

For RMT, 36% of their members that are Network Rail employees voted yes for the deal. So, we’re a bit short of the 50% that we need.

It’s couple of thousand people that need to change their vote.

We met again with the RMT leadership yesterday for discussions and we’re planning to meet again next week.

I would place that at seven [out of 10 – the chances of a deal].

I think there’s every chance by some very carefully targeted discussions at achieving (the 50%).

Asked if the RMT is losing public support, Lynch says he does not accept that. He says, after he was on Good Morning Britain recently, they had a poll showing 75% support for the union. He says:

I’m a more popular person than many of the politicians in this room, unfortunately for the public.

Lynch rejects claim strikes deterring people from using trains, saying service is ‘absolutely useless’ on non-strike days anyway

At the transport committee Greg Smith (Con) asks if he accepts that the continuing rail strikes are driving passengers away from rail, which is undermining the industry in the long term.

This is the official Downing Street argument.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, dismisses the argument, saying the rail service is “absolutely useless” on non-strike days because of how the government has treated it.

UPDATE: My colleague Pippa Crerar has the quote.

Tory MP Greg Smith asks RMT’s Mick Lynch whether strikes are driving people away from railway. 🚆

Lynch: “When we’re on strike or when we’re not on strike? What about the days when we’re not on strike, when it’s absolutely useless as well? It’s your government’s fault”.

— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) January 11, 2023

Rail union bosses insist they can sustain their strike action long-term if they need to

Q: How long can you sustain this dispute?

Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, says he is in it “for the long haul”.

But he would like to resolve this tomorrow, he says. He would like to get back to his day job, rebuilding the industry.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, says his union can sustain this “for an awfully long time”.

Frank Ward, the TSSA general secretary, says it would be better to ask how long the government can sustain this.

But he says it is having an effect on members. Some of them have been out for nine days, he says.

Lynch accuses government of ‘deliberate policy to transfer wealth from working people’

Asked what he thinks the motivation is for the approach being adopted by the government, Lynch says he thinks the government is engaged in “a deliberate policy to transfer wealth, I believe, from working people to people who have got money already”.

UPDATE: Lynch said:

There’s an attempt to defund a lot of services, I believe, and that’s what is at the heart of all of the public-sector disputes at the moment.

They’re not funded properly and people aren’t paid properly, people are getting poorer every week.

That is a deliberate policy to transfer wealth, I believe, from working people to people who have got money already.

It’s all part of a game that’s being played in front of us and this is how it plays out in detail. That’s their motivation.

Frank Ward, the TSSA general secretary, tells the transport committee that he thinks the government has been looking for disputes it could use to justify the anti-strike law it has been planning.

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, says the government is “stuck”. It thought the public would hate the unions for the strikes. But that did not happen, he says.

Lynch says, under the anti-strikes bill published yesterday, unions or management will have to name workers who are going to work on strike days. He says he does not see how that can be democratic.

Lynch claims there is a “Stalinist obsession” within the DfT with controlling rail management.

He says British Rail would never have allowed the sort of interference with management that is coming from central government now.

source: theguardian.com