Grant Shapps has insisted it “takes two to tango” as he urged union bosses to return to the negotiating table and stop the “callous” strikes.
The Transport Secretary took aim at the RMT during a statement to the House of Commons, but he also came under fresh pressure to explain why the Government is not directly involved in the talks.
Mr Shapps argued the Government is “not the employer” and it is for the train operating companies, Network Rail and the unions to come to an agreement.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the strikes going ahead will represent a “catastrophic failure of leadership”.
She said: “Ministers owe it to all those impacted by this serious disruption to get around the table for last ditch talks, to sort it out and avert this disruption.”
The Labour frontbencher added: “Not only has he been boycotting the talks, he’s tied the hands of those at the table.
“He and his department failed to give the train operating companies, a party to these talks, any mandate to negotiate whatsoever… These talks are a sham because ministers have set them up to fail.”
Mr Shapps, in his reply, said: “That was a lot of words to avoid using… the four words ‘I condemn the strikes’.”
He added: “The unions wrongly told their workers that there would be no pay rise: there will be a pay rise, because the pay freeze is coming to an end, so that was untrue.”
Labour MP Rachael Maskell (York Central) urged Mr Shapps to stop “grandstanding” and hold talks with union bosses.
Mr Shapps said RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch had made clear he had “walked out” of the talks with employers, adding: “We are ready to speak, we want to see this settled, pay offers have been put down, the modernisation is required in return, it takes two to tango.”
Ms Maskell could be heard saying: “You need to be there.”
Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “The British public, I believe, expect a Secretary of State not to come in here ranting to provoke a strike but to behave with the dignity and responsibility of the high office that he holds.”
— RMT (@RMTunion) June 20, 2022
Conservative MP Anna Firth (Southend West) raised the impact of the strikes on students, with Mr Shapps replying: “It’s actually callous, that’s what it is.
“I have a daughter who is taking an exam on Thursday. Thursday’s a strike day, she will now go in by car.
“I can see the stress is already building on her because she’s now worried about getting there… It’s a callous approach.”
Conservative MP Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) also said: “It’s absolutely not the right thing to be striking and these totally reckless actions by the unions must be condemned.”
On rail season ticket holders, Mr Shapps said: “I am arranging so that people who have annual season tickets, rather than having to rely on the delay-repay system, are able to apply and get their money back for the days they’re unable to travel this week.”