RMT boss Mick Lynch split the Question Time audience last night as he was groaned at over the ‘Spanish practice’ of maintenance teams only operating at certain stations.
The programme’s host Fiona Bruce had questioned whether crews operating at stations as little as five minutes apart are not allowed to work at the other station, a policy Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines wants to scrap.
Union leader Mr Lynch, who has led 50,000 rail workers on strike this week, said it was right ‘because they are two different regions’, prompting groans from the audience.
He added that assets and equipment are ‘entirely different on each region’, but was then berated by one audience member over his ‘Victorian attitude’.
‘Mick that just doesn’t fly… Because it’s a different area people can’t go from Victoria to Charing Cross? That’s just ludicrous. It’s an absolutely ludicrous, unworkable situation,’ the audience member said.
But another, who claimed he was a rail worker who has been on the picket line this week, rushed to Mr Lynch’s defence, saying the franchise system of rail operators was actually to blame.
In a fiery show, which was held last night in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, Mr Lynch divided opinion among the audience, with some showing support for the pickets and others coming out against the strikes.
It came amid strikes by Mr Lynch’s RMT union, which is calling for better pay, improved working conditions and guarantees of no compulsory redundancies.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch received a mixed response from the audience on Question Time in Stratford-upon-Avon last night
He was questioned by host Fiona Bruce over the ‘Spanish practices’ of maintenance crews
The union boss was berated by one member of the audience for what they saw as his ‘Victorian attitude’
It also came the same day that British Airways staff voted to go on strike during the summer holidays after rejecting a 10 per cent pay offer, as the potential for a ‘Summer of discontent’ marred by strikes grows.
In one section of the programme last night Ms Bruce quizzed Mr Lynch over maintenance crews and how they operate.
Speaking to Mr Lynch, she said: ‘Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines has said one of the things he wants to change and that you’re not allowing is that maintenance teams are responsible for geographical areas.
‘So for example, if you have a maintenance team who are Kings Cross Station, they are not allowed to go to Euston Station which is just a five minute walk. Is that right?’
The union boss replied ‘it’s right because they are two different regions’, prompting groans from the audience, with Ms Bruce saying ‘but they’re five minutes walk away?’
He went on to say: ‘The regions of the railway were constructed by private companies and the assets and equipment on them are entirely different on each region.’
‘We have digital timesheets and manual timesheets, you wouldn’t be surprised that if you’re out on the ballast in Inverness on a February you may not have a computer with you.’
Members of the RMT union on the picket line outside London Bridge station on June 23 in London
Kings Cross Station was deserted yesterday as millions of commuters faced another day of chaos
This prompted an angry outburst from one member of the audience, who was applauded by some in the crowd for saying: ‘Mick that just doesn’t fly, that’s an absolutely Victorian attitude.’
The audience member went on to say: ‘Because it’s a different area people can’t go from Victoria to Charing Cross? That’s just ludicrous. It’s an absolutely ludicrous, unworkable situation.
‘I employ 35 people, we have to change with what the customer demands.’
Mr Lynch attempted to respond saying ‘so do we (respond to customer demands)’, but this was rebutted by the audience member who said: ‘You clearly don’t Mick because you’ve got people in Charing Cross unable to maintain Victoria, it’s a ludicrous situation.
‘You will be the death of the railways. Look at railways now, utterly hopeless, terrible places to travel in, you’ve got customers crashing out left and right, you’ve had a 20 per cent fall since the pandemic and you’re still demanding more.
You are demanding twice as much as is on the table now, you’ve got a three point whatever it is per cent increase on the table, you’re demanding seven, you’re demanding a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, how utterly ridiculous is that in 2022?’
However, a railway worker and RMT union member who was in the audience leaped to Mr Lynch’s defence, blaming the franchise system.
‘My issue is, the reason it’s so fragmented is because of the franchise system, there 15 or 16 and Network Rail, how are they supposed to communicate?’ he said. I
‘If it was nationalised all under one banner then you can do those things, but you can’t do it.
‘It’s like going into Sainsbury’s and doing something at Asda. You can’t do it, and that’s the way the franchise system works.’
The franchise system refers to the private companies which operate trains on British railways.
At the moment there are 17 different franchises in Great Britain, with Network Rail responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the railways.
All of these are run by private companies with the exception of LNER, ScotRail, Southeastern and Transport for Wales Rail, all of which are Government-run.
The walkout by RMT members is set to take place for a third day on Saturday, with Mr Lynch saying yesterday that strikers will ‘take a pause next week and consider everything’ next week.
The union boss ominously predicted that managers and train drivers would join the strike soon, telling Sky News the situation ‘is going to escalate’.
He said: ‘There are other people that are balloting in this industry, the TSSA, the managers’ union, which shows you where the situation is, if the managers are going to go on strike and then we might have more drivers coming into the dispute through separate ballots.’
And airports, which have already faced delays and cancellations due to staff shortages in recent weeks, could be impacted after BA workers voted to go on strike yesterday.
It is the latest pay dispute threatening to disrupt Britain as workers, the majority of them in the public sector, demand pay rises in line with surging 9.1% inflation caused by the Government’s massive Covid bailouts and Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The earliest date the strikes could happen is early July, but the unions have not announced a timescale, possibly in the hopes of pressuring BA bosses to cave in.
GMB and Unite unions have blamed ‘pig-headed’ aviation bosses for the dispute by imposing mass layoffs during the pandemic, while airlines were struggling.
BA said that the unions had rejected a 10 per cent pay offer in favour of walkouts as early as next month, potentially during the school holidays.
However, union barons claim the airline’s offer was a one-time ‘bonus’ and its members want a full-time raise.
Travellers queue at security at Heathrow Airport in London, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. British Airways workers at the airport are set to go on strike as early as next month