Rail union chiefs have been urged to “think again” and call off strikes which are set to cause transport chaos in the run-up to Christmas.
Downing Street sought to put pressure on the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to accept a new pay deal, insisting it was the “right offer” to bring certainty to workers.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) offered a backdated 4% pay rise for 2022 with the same again next year and guarantee of no compulsory redundancies before April 2024.
The planned strikes, on December 13-14 and 16-17, coupled with an overtime ban over Christmas, risk a month of disruption on the network.
Asked whether Rishi Sunak wanted the RMT to put the offer to its membership, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “That fundamentally is a decision for the RMT.
“But we do think this is the right offer, it is a significant improvement on what they were offered before and we are confident it represents a good offer for their membership that provides them a significant uplift in pay and certainty, they will get a further uplift the following year.”
The spokesman said the strikes could still be avoided: “We continue to urge the RMT to think again. There is still time.
“They have been offered an improved, new deal by the train operators, a 4% increase both this year and next – that’s a change from what was offered before, which was a 3% one-year deal.
“The proposal also backdates to the beginning of the current financial year, meaning staff could go into Christmas having the knowledge that they will receive an improved, back-dated pay rise early in the new year.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We have rejected this offer as it does not meet any of our criteria for securing a settlement on long-term job security, a decent pay rise and protecting working conditions.”
The Government is braced for a wave of strike action over the winter as pay offers fail to keep pace with soaring inflation.
Downing Street would not rule out expanding legislation aimed at curbing the impact of strikes.
Legislation on imposing minimum service levels on transport services during strikes has already been put forward, although MPs have not begun debating it.
While there are no current plans to widen its scope, No 10 said the situation was being kept under review.
“Our focus on legislation with regards to strikes is on minimum service levels, the Bill that we introduced in October is the first step in achieving this,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We are keeping under review what is the right balance with regards to strikes. We won’t hesitate to bring forward changes if we judge they are required.”
Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen denounced Mr Zahawi’s remarks “as a new low for this Government”.
Asked if Mr Zahawi’s comments were helpful, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “I think you’ve heard from the Prime Minister before about the rationale around public sector pay.”
The spokesman added: “I think the Prime Minister has talked before about the need, when it comes to pay rises, to do what is affordable to the taxpayer.
“Obviously, nurses play a vital role in our health service. And that’s why we agreed with the recommendation of the independent body to give them a pay rise and indeed why we did so when no other public sector workers received one last year.”