Commuters must be prepared to ‘stay the course’ in the face of ‘unnecessary aggravation’ caused by rail strikes, Boris Johnson has warned.
He made the remarks at the start of a Cabinet meeting on the first day of walkouts across the network which are the largest in three decades, leaving millions facing inconvenience.
The RMT union is in a row with rail bosses over pay, jobs and conditions as they attempt a shake-up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has transformed passenger behaviour.
Major disruption across Britain as railway strike begins – live updates
Mr Johnson told his Cabinet colleagues that network reform was needed as ‘massive’ investment in projects such as HS2 took shape – and his remarks suggested commuters should prepare for more inconvenience as unions resist.
The Prime Minister said: “We need the union barons to sit down with Network Rail and the rail companies and carry on.
“We need, I’m afraid, everyone, and I say this to the whole country, we have to be prepared to stay the course.
“These reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interest of the traveling public, they will help reduce costs for users across the country.”
The remarks were made in front of cameras authorized to film part of the Cabinet meeting, but without Mr Johnson or any other minister answering questions from reporters.
Mr Johnson said the strike was causing ‘significant disruption and inconvenience across the country’ and was ‘so bad and unnecessary’.
It made it “harder for people to get to work, risking people’s appointments, making it harder for children to take exams – all sorts of unnecessary aggravation”.
He said the government saw the railways as a ‘vital part of leveling across the country’ but without modernization the financial pressure on them would drive up fares leading to the ‘disaster’ of declining rail use.
Around 40,000 members of Network Rail’s RMT union and 13 train operators have walked out.
The union is asking for a 7% wage increase – below the current rate of inflation but above the 2% offer, supplemented by a possible additional 1% linked to efficiency savings, which the employers say they are offering .
He accuses the government of stoking confrontation by withdrawing billions in state subsidies from the railways and tying the hands of state rail operator Network Rail and private rail operating companies.
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