Theresa May has been accused of “sabotaging” talks that had raised hopes of an end to a major dispute on Britain’s railways — as guards strike on four major networks today.
Workers on Southern, Greater Anglia, Northern and Merseyrail are taking industrial action in protest at the expansion of driver-only trains.
Rail union RMT fears that the change, which has been encouraged by the government, will compromise safety, disabled access and jobs.
After today’s 24-hour walkout, guards will stage a further strike on Thursday.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said he was becoming “increasingly alarmed that you are sabotaging deals” between his union and Southern, Northern, Greater Anglia and South Western.
He claimed that train company executives were “privately indicating to me that it is the government that are preventing the deals that in normal circumstances they would be able to make with the RMT.”
Downing Street declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the Department for Transport.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “The RMT should stop using passengers as pawns in their political game, call off this strike action and return to talks.
“This dispute is not about jobs, as all the companies have guaranteed posts, and I have been clear I want to see more people working on the railways, not fewer.
“It’s not about safety either, as the independent regulator has ruled that driver-controlled trains are safe.”
But Mr Cash accused the government of orchestrating a “co-ordinated blockade” of normal talks.
He pointed to deals struck with Transpennine Express, East Coast and Great Western Railway guaranteeing guards, but said no such deals had been reach since Ms May became PM.
“It is also clear that some of the rail companies themselves are frustrated at being used as political pawns and are being given a centralised script to read out to us in meetings,” he added.
South Western guards are in an earlier stage in their dispute, but a strike ballot result is expected shortly.
On Thursday, members of drivers’ union Aslef on the Tube are also set to strike in a separate dispute over shift patterns.
As the Star went to press last night, talks at conciliation service Acas to resolve the drivers’ dispute were still ongoing.