Downing Street has said a “fair agreement” to end strike action should not involve double-digit pay rises for workers.
A No 10 spokesman claimed such salary increases would “embed inflation”, as union representatives and employers were encouraged to hold further talks in a bid to find a resolution.
The spokesman gave no indication as to whether Downing Street believes a deal is close to being reached after the Daily Mail cited a source suggesting rail union and industry bosses are “nearly there”.
Nadine Rae, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) organising director, said on Wednesday that the government can help end strike action if it allows employers to “freely negotiate” with others.
Further travel disruption was expected from Wednesday due to strikes from Border Force staff, railway workers and driving instructors as industrial action over pay, jobs and conditions escalated.
Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members working as Border Force officers at Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow airports and the port of Newhaven resumed strikes on Wednesday for four days.
Driving examiners and local driving test managers also launched a five-day strike, with the walk-out involving PCS members in 71 test centres in eastern England and the Midlands who are employed by the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency (DVSA).
West Midlands Trains said that none of its services would be running from Wednesday morning as a result of 24-hour TSSA strike action. Great Western Railway warned of disruption as TSSA members walked out from 12pm until 11.59am on Thursday.
The No 10 spokesman said he was “not aware” of any plans for the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee to meet this week, although said contingency planning over the Christmas period has been taking place.
He told reporters: “We want the strikes to come to an end, we want people to agree a fair pay settlement but, as we’ve said before, what we can’t do is allow for double-digit pay rises that will embed inflation going forward, which will impact the amount of money people have going forward.”
Asked if any deal is close between rail unions and bosses, the spokesman said: “It’s for the employers and the unions to do the detailed negotiations but our position remains that we want to see those strikes come to an end.
“We’ve seen the disruption they have caused not just this week and next week but throughout the Christmas period,” the No 10 spokesperson added.
“We believe a fair and reasonable offer was put forward, which the RMT rejected despite a significant number of members voting to accept it, but now we want to see the unions get back round the table with the employers and reach a fair agreement.”
Inflation remains above 10 per cent although is forecast to fall. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said of the examiners’ strike: “Our members have been offered a pay rise of just 2% at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is above 10 per cent.
“We know our action will cause widespread disruption and inconvenience to people in eastern England and the Midlands – hundreds of driving tests have been cancelled already in other parts of the country – but the government is to blame.
“These strikes could be called off tomorrow if Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt put some money on the table,” he added.
Meanwhile, unions are reportedly looking at ways to stage further strikes by splitting ballots by job titles rather than holding a single vote.
It comes after a day of travel chaos despite a rail strike by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) coming to an end, with crowds of people left waiting at major train stations across London and many journeys delayed due to the late handover of engineering works.
The i newspaper reported that the TSSA is poised to let different sections of its membership vote at different times in order to carry out multiple walkouts per week.
A spokesperson told the paper: “Rather than balloting everybody in one single ballot, our intention is to split the ballot so that we can ballot station staff separately to controllers, for example, which would give us greater flexibility in when we can call people out for strike action.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Transport Secretary and rail minister have worked hard to facilitate a fair and reasonable offer, which two unions have accepted, and it is incredibly disappointing that some continue to strike.
“We urge them to step back, reconsider and get back round the table, so we can start 2023 by ending this damaging dispute.”