The UK is gearing up for its biggest rail strike over pay in 30 years after last-ditch talks between railway unions and transport bosses failed on Monday.
A walkout by an estimated 40,000 workers on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is set to impact all train services after the RMT Union blamed the "dead hand" of government for the misery in store for passengers this week.
The government, on the other hand, blamed the unions for inconveniencing millions of students needing to travel for their exams, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it an act of self-harm for rail workers.
"The crazy thing about this strike is it was called by the union bosses on false pretences that there would be no pay rises. That was never the case, said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
They called a strike that will inconvenience millions this week. It's totally wrong, totally unfair," he said.
Members of the RMT union are walking out in a dispute over pay, compulsory redundancies and safety concerns, as employers look to make savings on the railway network following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said latest offers from publicly-owned Network Rail and private train operating companies had been rejected.
"What we've come to understand is the dead hand of this government is all over this dispute. Until they allow these employers to negotiate freely, I can't see we're going to get a resolution," said Lynch.
"We remain available for discussions during the action and after the action and between the strike dates if the companies want to engage with us," he said, after confirming that a new offer from train operators was rejected on Monday.
It is thought the union is asking for a 7 per cent pay rise and 2-3 per cent has been on the table, while inflation is heading towards 11 per cent.
Shapps has denied the government intervened in the dispute, saying "no minsters have ever been involved directly in these strike negotiations" and only the employers and union could reach an agreement.
Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines has urged passengers to travel by train only if necessary this week as a reduced timetable will be in place until Sunday, with just 20 per cent of usual services expected to be running on strike days.
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