The Cabinet minister claimed the union had “ignored” requests to negotiate a deal as the country braces for the biggest industrial action on the railways in a generation.
A series of strikes at Network Rail and 13 train operators will go ahead on Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday after talks between union officials and railway firms collapsed over the weekend. RMT and Unite workers will also stage a walk-out on the London Underground on Tuesday.
RMT Secretary-General Mick Lynch on Saturday confirmed that the strikes would go ahead, claiming that “no viable settlements” had been proposed by railway officials to solve the dispute over pay and pensions.
Responding to the breakdown in talks, Mr Shapps said: “We are now on the cusp of major disruption which will cause misery for people right across the country.
“Many people who do not get paid if they can’t get to work face losing money at a time they simply can’t afford to.
“Children sitting exams will face the extra distraction of changing their travel plans.And vulnerable people trying to attend long-awaited hospital appointments may have no choice but to cancel.
“By carrying out this action the RMT is punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make in order to protect our rail network.”
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Lynch blamed the Government for the dispute over pay, saying they had cut £4 billion of funding from Britain’s transport systems.
“As a result of this transport austerity imposed by the Government, the employing companies have taken decisions to savage the Railway Pension Scheme and the Transport for London scheme, cutting benefits, making staff work longer, and poorer in retirement, while paying increased contributions,” he added.
“We want a transport system that operates for the benefit of the people, for the needs of society and our environment – not for private profit.”
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said he was “surprised” that the RMT was “dismissing talks before we’ve even finished” and claimed further discussions had been planned for Sunday.
He said he was committed to working out a “compromise that gives our people a decent pay rise”, but stressed it “has to be affordable for taxpayers and fare payers”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will accuse ministers of “pouring petrol on the fire” over their handling of the rail dispute in a speech set to be delivered at the Labour local government association conference in Warwick on Sunday.
He is expected to say: “Here’s the truth, Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps want the strikes to go ahead. They want the country to grind to a halt so they can feed off the division.
“Instead of spending their time this week around the negotiating table, they are designing attack ads.
“Instead of grown-up conversations to take the heat out of the situation, they are pouring petrol on the fire.”
It comes after ministers were warned that next week’s rail strikes could cost key industries over a billion pounds – hampering the country’s economic recovery from the Covid pandemic.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UK Hospitality, warned tourism and leisure businesses were already fragile after pandemic lockdowns and would take a “big hit”.
Speaking to Times Radio, Ms Nicholls said: “At the best, we think it’s going to take a hit to hospitality revenues of over half a billion pounds.
“But that presupposes that many people will travel on those shoulder days when the trains and the Tubes will still be disrupted – it could be more significant than that.”