40,000 of RMT staff at Network Rail and 13 rail operators walked out from midnight. The RMT union is asking for a pay rise of at least 7% to offset the rising cost of living, but it says employers have offered a maximum of 3% - on condition they also accept job cuts and changes to working practices.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said staff were being asked to accept thousands of job cuts, reduced pensions, worse terms and conditions and a cut in real-terms pay as living costs soar. Mr Lynch said industrial action would run "as long as it needs to", saying the strikes could last months if a deal was not reached. Mick Lynch, the RMT’s general secretary, raised the prospect of further strikes throughout the summer, as the two sides remained far apart. Lynch said Network Rail had “escalated” the dispute at the talks that day by telling him there would be redundancies from 1 July.
Johnson has responded to the biggest rail strikes in a generation with plans to break the industrial action by allowing firms to bring in agency staff, a move unions have decried as unworkable, unsafe and potentially breaking international law. It would make disputes long and bitter, unions warned on Monday, with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) accusing Johnson of taking a step that “even Margaret Thatcher did not go near”. It would inflame divisions between employers and trade unions when the government should be trying to bring about a deal, they said.
Paul Nowak, the deputy general secretary of the TUC, said: “Laws against bringing in agency workers have been in place since this was outlawed in 1973. Even Margaret Thatcher didn’t go near it. But Boris Johnson has pulled out the playbook.” He said the prime minister appeared to be trying to unite his own side around a conflict with trade unions as “part of Operation Save Big Dog” – the nickname for the effort to shore up his flagging premiership.
Nowak said there were safety concerns with bringing in agency workers, who might have little experience in what they are being asked to do, and would be put in an “uncomfortable position” of having to cross a picket line.
“It prolongs disputes. It makes them very bitter. The use of agency workers themselves becomes another point of conflict between employers and unions,” he said. “We have real concerns agency workers will be pitted against directly employed staff.”
He also questioned the legality of repealing the ban. “Once again, this government is showing its disregard for international law, which these proposals almost certainly breach,” Nowak added, citing the right to take strike action under the principles of the UN’s International Labour Organisation.
A joint statement from the TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Federation (REC) said the plan was counterproductive, impractical and would put workers at risk.
Neil Carberry, the REC’s chief executive, said: “The government’s proposal will not work. Agency staff have a choice of roles and are highly unlikely to choose to cross picket lines.”
The plans would affect not just the railways, but many other sectors where unions are considering strike ballots, including NHS staff, teachers, care workers, civil servants and refuse collectors.
Unions representing NHS staff also criticised the government’s plan to encourage the use of agency workers in hospitals and other healthcare settings as unworkable and a threat to patients’ safety.
Joanne Galbraith-Marten, the Royal College of Nursing’s director of employment relations and legal services, said: “This change would be undemocratic and unsafe. Any industrial action by our members is very carefully planned to keep patients safe. Bringing in less qualified or agency workers could put patients at risk.”
The Managers in Partnership union, which represents NHS managers, said the government was “barking up the wrong tree” by proposing the temporary replacement of striking NHS staff.
Jon Restell, its chief executive said, “There will be a raft of healthcare regulatory constraints on clinical staffing and service delivery. The government would be pretty reckless if it tried to ditch those for a period of industrial action,” he said.
Boris Johnson plans to break rail strikes by allowing use of agency workers | Rail transport | The Guardian
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