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Rail union ‘holding the country to ransom’, says minister

By staff

Schools minister Nick Gibb has accused the RMT of “holding the country to ransom” after the union announced further railway strike action over the Christmas period.

This comes as a deal to avert severe Christmas rail disruption was rejected on Monday night with the RMT union rebuffing a new pay offer from Network Rail. 

The union said it would put the offer to members in an electronic referendum this week but recommend that they reject it. 

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Rail workers will now go on strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 7am on 27 December. This is in addition to the strikes that were already due to take place on December 13, 14, 16 and 17. More are scheduled for January 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Mr Gibb told GB News: “It’s a very disappointing decision by the RMT, they were offered a very good pay deal by the employers, eight per cent over two years, which is in line with the kind of pay deals that are happening  outside the public sector of between four and six per cent.

“So, I think the unions really should call off this strike. It’s inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run-up to Christmas, I think it’s a very poor way of conducting negotiations.

“We would urge the unions to talk to the employers, to keep negotiating and not to hold the country to ransom, particularly in December as we get nearer Christmas”.

Providing the Labour party’s position was Angela Rayner, who labelled the government “militant” over its handling of strike action this winter.

The deputy Labour leader told BBC Breakfast: “These people who are going on strike are going to lose pay, they will lose their pay at a time when they need it the most, they are not doing it at a drop of a hat.”

She added: “This is a militant Government that is not dealing with the issues and not resolving this strike action, and it’s frustrating.”

Mr Gibb also commented on the government’s U-turn over central housing targets. He insisted the Conservatives are still “committed to home ownership” after the Government announced it is watering down housebuilding targets.

The prime minister’s decision to ditch compulsory housebuilding targets for local areas came after as many as 100 of his MPs threatened to rebel over the issue. Rebel MPs had backed an amendment to the government’s flagship levelling up and regeneration bill.

The target of building 300,000 homes a year in England will now be “advisory” and councils will be allowed to build fewer homes if they can show hitting it would significantly change the character of an area. 

Mr Gibb told GB News: “These changes to the regeneration bill are ways of ensuring we have consent in local communities for more housebuilding.

“The Government is committed to building hundreds of thousands of houses a year and we had a record number of houses built, supplied, last year , over 200,000.

“As a party, the Conservative Party, we are committed to home ownership. We want young people to be able to get on the housing ladder and over the last four years we have had three of the highest numbers of new homes coming onto the market for young people and for the rest of the community”.