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Trade unions across the world tell Grant Shapps: “UK’s reputation is at risk”

news Press Release 24 Jun 2022

Over 100 global transport unions, from 52 countries, have written to the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, urging him to meet with striking UK unions.

The letter, coordinated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), who represents 20 million transport workers globally, expressed shock that “the UK Government is set to impose cuts to railway services and infrastructure projects”, with signatories warning that it risked harming the UK’s credibility on industrial relations.

Strikes by members of unions including the RMT, Unite the Union and ASLEF across the UK’s railway network and London’s Underground have garnered widespread global attention, as unions in other transport sectors and countries gear up for strike action over similar concerns on wages and working conditions. On Thursday, workers at the UK’s Heathrow Airport announced that they would strike over the upcoming summer holidays.

Ahead of further RMT strikes on Saturday 25th June, Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, said:

“Unions across the world are shocked that less than a year after committing to supporting dialogue with trade unions at COP26, the UK is set to impose cuts to railway services and scrap infrastructure projects at exactly the time when it should be expanding and promoting public transport.

“The government pumped in millions to keep private companies afloat, the workers kept the system moving. During the pandemic the Secretary of State for Transport praised rail workers as ‘true heroes’, yet the first reaction we see as we come out of the crisis - as the cost of living crisis deepens and UK inflation hits a 40-year high - is making the same workers take the hit. 

“Grant Shapps must realise that the UK's international reputation on industrial relations is at risk. If he remains unwilling to even speak with national unions, what hope does he think his government will have when it comes to engaging international unions as part of the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda?

“Internationally, whether it's rail, aviation or maritime, where unions are sitting down with industry, employers and government, we are seeing a smoother transition out of the Covid crisis. The UK government has an opportunity to lead on a sustainable economic recovery from the pandemic. This must include long-term sustainable funding for National Rail and TfL. Refusal to come to the table will squander this for the sake of politics.”

Commenting from Sydney, Australia, ITF President Paddy Crumlin said:

“The world is watching this dispute play out. Grant Shapps has a decision to make. Come to the table and treat the transport workers of the UK with the respect and dignity that he himself has declared they deserve. Or continue to contradict himself and his government and betray the workers it celebrated months ago and purports to represent to instead line the pockets of the millionaire rail bosses.

“RMT has declared it will continue its industrial campaign until a settlement is negotiated. Today transport unions globally have resoundingly declared their solidarity with all the brave rail workers on picket lines across the UK and committed to back the RMT until a deal is done.”

European unions also weighed in with Frank Moreels, ETF President, calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to step up:

“This week 50,000 railway workers across the UK have walked out in the biggest dispute on British railways since 1989. Make no mistake about this, transport unions across Europe, and the world, stand ready to support UK rail unions if strike action escalates after this week’s strikes. The government must step in and mediate a resolution that delivers job security and a pay rise in line with the escalating cost of living crisis."

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation of transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives, connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the 20 million women and men who move the world.