TSSA urges Johnson meeting over rail strike threat

Close up of train carriage displaying 'not in service' sign

TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, has written to Boris Johnson saying he would be happy to meet him for talks aimed at averting industrial action across the rail network this summer, but warned that assurances on pay and job security were needed. 

The offer comes after comments from Johnson (Monday 23rd May) in which he which urged unions to ‘talk to the government’, suggesting a change of stance. 

Via his official spokesman Johnson said there was a need to ‘make sure [the railways are] fit for the future’ with ‘a fair deal for staff, for passengers and taxpayers'. 

In response, union boss Cortes said he was ‘happy to meet at the earliest opportunity’ given the pressing need for the Department for Transport to come forward with pay proposals which 'at least match the hike in the cost of living which our members are experiencing’. The alternative, Cortes said, would be 'a summer of discontent across our rail network'. 

The full letter text of the letter from Manuel Cortes to Boris Johnson is as follows -  

 Tuesday 24th May 2022  

 Prime Minister  

I note with interest your comments via your official spokesman (Monday 23 May) calling for talks with ourselves and sister unions in a bid to avert industrial action on the railways this summer.  

Let me be clear, I will be happy to meet at the earliest opportunity so we can have those important discussions because you are right - we do need to make sure our railways are ‘fit for the future’.  

You will be aware of the vital role played by our members in keeping trains moving during the pandemic, helping key workers get to their jobs and goods delivered around our country.  

This is proof, if any were needed, of the importance of our railways not only in a health emergency but as we attempt to build our economic recovery from Covid. The best way of doing that, and fighting our climate emergency at the same time, is by making sure our railways are attractive for passengers and business alike.  

Rail is a public service millions of people depend on every week of the year and it should be recognised as such - that means proper funding of the network and return of pre-pandemic levels of services.  

You also say you want to see ‘a fair deal for staff’ and so do we. However, our union is in dispute with Network Rail (NR), and with a rising number of Train Operating Companies, having received no assurances which prevent real terms pay cuts this year; nor has there been guarantees that there will be no unilateral changes to our members’ terms and conditions, or about their job security.  

Frankly it’s a scandal that your government is seeking to make cuts that will see 5000 jobs lost at NR alone, something which undermines the safety of our railways.  

As things stand the Department for Transport needs to come forward very soon with proposed pay increases which at least match the hike in the cost of living which our members are experiencing, or sadly we really will face a summer of discontent across our rail network as a last resort to make your government think again.  

I must tell you that the damaging and anti-democratic comments from Grant Shapps in the Sunday Telegraph (22 May), suggesting you plan to legislate to subvert industrial action on our railways, does your government no credit whatsoever. Frankly, those are not words usually associated with governments in the free world.  

That said, I repeat my offer of talks with you anytime, anywhere, in the hope that we may be able to find a deal which delivers for our hardworking and dedicated members.  

 Yours sincerely  

Manuel Cortes  

TSSA General Secretary 

 *The comments made by Boris Johnson’s spokesman are as follows -  

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Railways are going through difficult times with passenger numbers down. We need to make sure they’re fit for the future. We want a fair deal for staff, for passengers and taxpayers so money isn’t taken away from other essential services, NHS being a good example.  

“The Prime Minister is firmly of the view that unions should talk to the Government before causing irreparable damage to our railways, strikes should be the last resort not the first.” 


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