WiredGov Newswire (news from other organisations)
Printable version

Transport Secretary is blocking negotiations that could end rail dispute, says TUC

  • Conservative leadership campaign must not descend into “pot-shots at working people and their unions”, says TUC as proposals are made to restrict the right to strike

The TUC is calling today (Tuesday) on the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to stop prolonging the rail dispute.

RMT workers employed by Network Rail and 14 rail operators will take part in a one-day stoppage tomorrow (Wednesday). TSSA members at Avanti West Coast will also be on strike tomorrow. And members of Aslef will be on strike across eight rail operators on Saturday 30 July.

Government control of rail firms in the dispute

Contracts between rail operators and government allow the government to direct how the current rail dispute is handled, and to apply financial sanctions if operators do not follow directions given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

A legal opinion commissioned by the TUC from Michael Ford QC of Old Square Chambers advises that:

  • The Transport Secretary has “very extensive powers” over what can be agreed between rail operators and unions, and “very significant contractual power” to direct how industrial disputes are handled.
  • Rail operators are not free to agree terms and conditions with their employees without the involvement of the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.
  • Before discussing any changes to pay, terms & conditions, redundancies, or restructuring with rail unions, rail operators must agree a mandate with the Transport Secretary.
  • If a rail operator fails to agree a mandate before any such discussions, it can face financial penalties.
  • The Transport Secretary has issued a ‘Dispute Handling Policy’ that rail operators must comply with, and he has “overarching direction and control of the strike… either because the strategy is agreed with the Secretary of State or because the Secretary of State simply directs how the strike is to be handled”.
  • These provisions mean that “Train operators do not have freedom to negotiate the matters which have given rise to the current dispute”.

The legal opinion concludes that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps “has legal power to give overall direction of how the dispute is handled” and that “reinforcing each of these powers are strong financial rewards and sanctions”.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

“We all want to see successful negotiations to end this dispute. 

“But the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is giving secret instructions to rail firms from behind the scenes – and stopping them coming to a deal.

“It’s time for the Transport Secretary to stop blocking an agreement that will end the dispute.”

On Conservative leadership campaign proposals to restrict the right to strike, she added:

“The right to strike is an important British freedom. Threatening the right to strike means working people lose the power to bargain for better pay and conditions. 

“Instead of taking pot-shots at working people and their unions, the candidates should come up with plans to get wages rising again. That’s how to deal with the cost-of-living emergency.” 

Editors note

- Legal opinion by Michael Ford QC:

The legal opinion published today was commissioned by the TUC and is the independent legal opinion of Michael Ford QC, Old Square Chambers. 

Mr Ford became a QC in 2013 and was awarded Employment Silk of the Year at the Chambers Bar Awards in 2015. 

The full legal opinion can be downloaded here: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/Michael_Ford_QC_Advice_Rail_Strikes.pdf

The legal opinion is based on Mr Ford’s reading of the following contracts:

- Relevance of legal opinion to rail operators in the current dispute: The current rail dispute involves the following train operating companies (TOCs): Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, GTR (including Gatwick Express), Transpennine Express, Avanti West Coast, and West Midlands Train.

Three TOCs are in public ownership and directly under the Secretary of State’s direction.

Eight TOCs are under private control and have National Rail Contracts or Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements with the wording assessed in the legal opinion.

And three TOCs are on National Rail Contracts, but their contracts are not yet published on the DfT’s register. The TUC believes that these are likely to have identical wording to those that have already been published.

Original article link: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/transport-secretary-blocking-negotiations-could-end-rail-dispute-says-tuc

Share this article

Latest News from
WiredGov Newswire (news from other organisations)

On-Demand Webinar: Better Understand and Manage your Natural Capital