New rail minister Huw Merriman claimed the Government has “changed the tone” on strikes which have decimated train services in recent months.
In his first speech since being appointed to the role, Mr Merriman said the “only way you get through industrial action” is to talk and “not to make a political issue of it”.
The latest strikes – due to begin on Saturday November 5 – were called off at short notice by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which said it had secured “unconditional” talks with Network Rail and the promise of a pay offer from the train operating companies.
But the union says the dispute remains “very much live” and it is continuing its re-ballot of members to secure a fresh mandate for action with the result due on November 15.
Asked if he planned to meet the union leaders, Mr Merriman told the Railway Industry Association’s annual conference in central London that the negotiations are between Network Rail, train operators and the unions, but “we stand by willing to aid in any particular way”.
He went on: “Whilst there are no current plans for me to go in the room because that hasn’t been requested, myself and the Secretary of State (Mark Harper), I think we’ve changed the tone in terms of how we feel about trade unions.
“We understand they have their members to represent but we do badly need to see this actually come to an end.
“It’s cost the railway about half a billion (pounds) this year, and I’m talking about growing the railway.
“If we don’t get the services restored I’m worried people give up on rail, and that would be no good for any of you but also no good for the members of those trade unions.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman told the PA news agency that letters have been sent to the general secretaries of major rail unions including the RMT, inviting them to an “introductory meeting” with Mr Harper.
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