Government ‘misleading’ about role in rail strikes, legal adviser suggests

The government has been accused of “misleading” the public by insisting that it is not participating in negotiations to resolve the bitter rail dispute.

The TUC said the independent legal opinion refutes government claims that the dispute only arises between train operators and unions.

The union said the legal opinion it received clarifies that contracts between rail operators and the government allow the government to impose financial sanctions if operators do not follow its instructions in an ongoing dispute.


Closed platforms at London’s Waterloo station during a strike (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A legal opinion prepared by the TUC on behalf of Michael Ford QC of Old Square Chambers reported that Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps has “very broad powers” over what can be negotiated between rail operators and unions and “very significant contractual powers.” to determine how Industrial Disputes are resolved, the TUC said in a statement.

According to the council, rail operators cannot negotiate terms with their employees without the involvement of Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps.

The TUC legal advice added that before discussing any pay changes, conditions, layoffs or restructuring with rail unions, rail operators must agree a mandate with the Minister of Transport.

However, the Department of Transportation said the claim that Shapps should be involved in the negotiations was “misleading.”

We have always believed that Conservative Ministers have the right to pull the strings of the railway companies behind the scenes, and this legal opinion on railway contracts confirms this.Francis O’Grady, TUC

Train traffic was interrupted again on Sunday morning after a third strike in a week by members of the rail, maritime and transport union, which is taking action over jobs, pay and working conditions.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister and his Minister of Transport have misled the public.

“When they said that the government has no role to play in resolving this dispute, that is not true.

“When they say that only employers and trade unions need negotiations, this is wrong.

“We have always believed that Conservative ministers have the right to pull the strings of the railway companies behind the scenes, and this legal opinion on railway contracts confirms this.


Transport Minister Grant Shapps speaks to the media at College Green in central London, Pennsylvania

“The Transport Minister can resolve this dispute. Instead, he toured the TV studios, adding fuel to the fire and trying to turn the workers against each other.

“We deserve honesty from our government. We deserve fair negotiations so that we can make fair agreements.

“This week Britain needs its Conservative government to stop moving and start helping to resolve this dispute. The railroad workers, once hailed as the heroes of the pandemic by the Secretary of Transportation, deserve job security and the decent pay raise they have earned.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport said: “The suggestion that the Minister of Transport be involved in these negotiations is misleading.

“His role is to protect the public purse, provide value for money to the hardworking people of this country.

“So he has to set limits on taxpayer support and end up signing any deal rather than negotiating it, and his contracts with operators allow him to do just that.

“The union is well aware that negotiations about pay and working methods are not with the government, but with the employers of the people they represent. In this case, it is Network Rail and the railway companies.

“We once again call on union representatives to return to the negotiating table instead of declaring new strikes that only serve to destroy the lives of people across the country.”