I am writing this column at the end of a week where I and 274 of my Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons voted to condemn the RMT union’s rail strike action which will have a devasting effect on Crawley workers this week. In recent years unions like the RMT have directly funded Labour by over £100 million – that party’s leadership should call on union bosses to call off this damaging industrial action.
During Covid-19 the Government delivered £16 billion of taxpayer-funded support for rail services. This is the equivalent to £600 per household, or £160,000 for every rail worker. As a result of this backing from Government, none of the 100,000 staff employed directly by the railways were furloughed, and services for our key workers continued to run.
With our country on the road to recovery from the pandemic, we simply cannot ask the nation to continue this level of financial support.
While the threat from Covid-19 has decreased, the importance of our key workers has not. I am acutely aware that the RMT’s actions will only prolong travel times for those who keep our health and care sector going.
I note that the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care has written to Labour’s Health Spokesman, asking him to consider the effect that industrial action will have on the NHS and oppose the strikes accordingly.
The Transport Secretary has been clear that he wants to see a fair deal including increasing pay for rail staff, which is part of a sustainable and growing railway.
At present, however, the median wage for rail workers is £44,000 and the median salary for train drivers is some £59,000, with a fifth of drivers earning more than £70,000.
The answer has to be fair for rail workers but also fair for passengers and taxpayers. Rail workers are certainly not shouldering all responsibility. The number of senior managers, and their pay, is reducing, and the chief executive of Network Rail is paid over a quarter less than his predecessor.
In the years ahead, Government aims to use £35 billion to maintain and grow the rail network.
If this dispute is not resolved, ministers will consider action including repealing the ban on transferable staff filling in for striking workers.
I encourage the RMT to drop their divisive rhetoric and negotiate properly with Network Rail.
Calling off these strikes will mean that commuters will be able to get to work, air passengers can travel to and from Gatwick, and people marking Armed Forces Day on Saturday 25th June will be able to attend events without disruption.
Henry Smith MP