Unions have pledged to fight “desperate” proposals by ministers to force staff to work if a national rail strike is called.

With votes on industrial action on Network Rail and 15 UK train operators ending this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government would consider imposing a “maximum service level” minimize”, effectively reducing the right to strike.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and other organizations said any such move would be met with “the stiffest resistance”.

More than 40,000 RMT members are voting on whether to strike in the face of expected cuts including the loss of thousands of maintenance jobs at Network Rail, a pay freeze and the closing of box offices. station or not, after the government asked the railway industry to seek big savings following a drop in revenue caused by the Covid pandemic. The results of the vote are expected Wednesday morning.

Shapps told the Telegraph that ministers were considering passing legislation that would implement the Conservative Party manifesto to keep services running during transport strikes. “We were committed there to minimum service levels,” he said. If they really get to that point then the minimum level of service would be one way to work towards protecting freight routes and that sort of thing.”

Unions say Shapps is talking about denying basic rights. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Any attempt by Grant Shapps to take illegal strike action on the rails will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the public movement. larger group.

“The government should focus all its efforts on finding a fair solution to this railway dispute, not attacking the democratic rights of the working people.”

The Salaried Employees’ Association (TSSA), which can also hold a vote to strike the national rail line if mandatory redundancies are implemented, said it was “great nonsense”. hope from the Tories, who have chosen to attack the people who work to keep the railways running every day of the pandemic”. The union’s general secretary, Manuel Cortes, said: “Our union will defy their unjust and undemocratic laws at every step.”

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TUC secretary general, Frances O’Grady, accused ministers of trying to distract from the cost of living crisis by going to war with unions. “The right to strike is paramount in a free society,” she said. “Threatening it…means that workers cannot accept good services and safety in the workplace or protect their jobs or pay wages.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the union would “confront directly, and in whatever way necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike”.

Rail unions have warned of a “spring of discontent” after lengthy talks with industry bosses over potential savings broke down late last year without a deal. . Some rail operators are said to be considering wage increases of 2-3%, but most wages have been frozen during the pandemic and inflation has hit 9%.

The rail industry is making contingency plans for a national strike, including prioritizing freight train operations to keep goods moving and shelves.

Railroad companies say the strike vote is premature with most pay talks yet to take place, but unions believe swingeing cuts will come. The industry needs around £15 billion more as Covid carries passengers away and the government has made it clear to rail operators that subsidies must be reduced. Unions have called on the government to tackle locomotive companies, which are guaranteed income from taxpayers and pay huge dividends to shareholders during the pandemic.

The Department for Transport said the industrial action would cause “irreparable damage to our railroads”, with many former commuters no longer forced to commute daily to work. .

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said rail companies were “deeply aware of the cost-of-living pressures” on employees, but added: “Our entire focus is now is to ensure a prosperous future for rail that adapts to new travel patterns and doesn’t take too much of a fair share from taxpayers, rather than staging early industrial actions that could disrupt passengers’ lives and put the industry’s recovery at risk. ”

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