19 Days Remaining

Wednesday 14th
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Most commuters want Transport Secretary out

CHRIS GRAYLING is threatening to strip rail workers of their “fundamental human rights,” unions said yesterday as strikes caused travel chaos across southern England.

An all-out drivers’ strike prompted Southern, Britain’s worst-performing rail company, to cancel every single one of its services.

Drivers will strike again today and on Friday, followed by a six-day walkout in January if the dispute over driver-only trains is not resolved.

But a survey of commuters found almost three-quarters want Transport Secretary Mr Grayling, who refused yesterday to rule out banning rail strikes altogether, to quit.

The research, carried out by the Association of British Commuters, found that one in four blame management for the dispute, with just 5 per cent blaming the unions. Forty-four per cent blamed both.

Southern conductors have staged numerous strikes over the deskilling of their roles.

Parallel action by drivers’ union Aslef was repeatedly blocked via legal challenges.

But bosses failed in their latest attempt to stymie the walk-outs, with first the High Court and then yesterday the Court of Appeal ruling against them.

Unions have accused Mr Grayling and the Department for Transport of egging on

management in their attempts to crush the unions.

Speaking at a meeting organised by a Tory MP earlier this year, £265,000-a-year DfT executive Peter Wilkinson said workers resisting changes should “get the hell out of my industry.”

He promised “punch-ups” with staff and said of striking workers: “We have got to break them.

“They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.”

Interviewed on BBC radio yesterday morning, Mr Grayling would not rule out further changes to the law, saying: “We are looking very carefully at how we take things forward.”

But RMT leader Mick Cash, whose union represents conductors, said the Tories wanted to “strip rail workers of their fundamental human rights.

“Private companies like Southern would be given the green light to rip up the safety rule book and to run riot with lethal consequences,” he said.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “The strikes this week are not, whatever Mr Grayling tries to suggest, politically motivated.

“We have a trade dispute with GTR/Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way.”

As the Star went to press last night, Aslef confirmed it would enter talks with bosses at conciliation service Acas today — but the planned all-out strike action will still go ahead.

“As far as we’re concerned it’s up to management to make a proposition we can accept,” an Aslef spokesman said.