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Industrial Action: Railways

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 30 June 2022

17. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900828)

18. What assessment he has made of the economic impact of the rail industrial action between 21 and 25 June 2022. (900829)

The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated the cost of the RMT’s strike action to be at least £91 million due to workplace absences. However, Network Rail has estimated the direct cost of last week’s strike to the rail industry to be between £100 million and £150 million.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the rail industry has been well documented, as have been his and the Chancellor’s extensive efforts in providing support for our railways during that time. Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that, after two years of taxpayers’ money being spent subsidising the rail industry, the RMT chose to strike instead of accepting the pay rise it has been offered or continuing to negotiate?

My hon. Friend is right, but it is actually even worse than that. Not only was £16 billion of taxpayers’ money put in—£600 per family in this country, or £160,000 per individual railway employee—but the RMT balloted for strike action under the false pretence that there would not be a pay rise, when in fact the pay freeze had already ended. That is unjustified and unjustifiable action that the whole House should be condemning.

Given the significant cost of the strikes, what progress can we make towards the introduction of minimum service levels, like they have in many other European countries, albeit as a longer-term solution?

We are intending to progress with minimum service levels. That is in our manifesto, and we will be introducing legislation later this year. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, minimum service levels exist in civilised countries such as France, Italy and Spain, and it is about time we had them in the UK as well.

Will the Secretary of State explain why it is that when essential goods such as fuel are in short supply the price has to go up, but when essential workers are in short supply, their wages are expected to go down?

As I have explained to the House, a pay rise was already on the cards, and it is false to have called a strike on the basis that there would be a pay freeze. The pay freeze had ended. It is also untrue to say that there needed to be wide-scale compulsory redundancies. Indeed, we had a voluntary redundancy programme, where 5,500 members of staff came forward, and we only accepted 2,500 of them. This strike has been called on the false pretences that I have described. It is time to end the strike and ensure that people get back to work, and it is time for those on the Opposition Benches to condemn the strikes.