The UK’s transport secretary has been accused of “talking nonsense” by the RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch.
Grant Shapps was described as being “completely ignorant” to how railways work by Lynch, who has led a series of rail strikes over the past week across the UK.
The transport secretary had earlier argued for a ban on “outdated” working practices that he said were holding the railways back.
On social media, he wrote: “Our railway is a proud part of our history and has served us well for 200 years, but if we want it to serve us for the next 200 then it must move with the times and banish the outdated working practices that are holding it back.
“For instance, did you know, Sunday working laws haven’t been updated since 1919.
“That means, for some Train Operating Companies, Sundays aren’t part of the working week and they have to rely on the ‘good will’ of employees to work them – while receiving substantial overtime pay!
“Maintenance laws are just as bad. The rostering of individuals or training of multiskilled workers isn’t allowed.
“It means for a job that could, in theory, be completed by one person, whole teams have to be sent. Even worse, these teams won’t share vans or equipment either.
“Not only that but maintenance teams aren’t allowed to cross one geographical boundary to another, even neighbouring ones to carry out vital repairs.
“It means a team based at Euston wouldn’t be able to walk 500 yards to Kings Cross to fix an urgent points failure.
Shapps added: “Practices such as this aren’t just archaic, they are hugely damaging to commuters’ daily lives and the economy, causing people to be late for work or miss hospital appointments and, as an industry, we must change.”
However, Lynch disputed the claims made by Shapps as he said that it was false to say that Sunday working practices had not been updated since 1919.
And he said that maintenance teams can work across boundaries as instructed by the company, but only across railway regions in emergencies.
Lynch further said that it was an “utter fallacy” to suggest that members would not travel in vans together.
He added that restructuring at the railway by the transport secretary had cut off £2bn.
“Grant Shapps is talking nonsense and is completely ignorant of how the railways work which is a major shortcoming for a transport secretary,” said Lynch.
“Rail industry bosses are making it up as they go along.
“Their main agenda is to cut the costs and jobs first rather than proposing a coherent, logical and efficient organisation to where the staff can be transferred by agreement with the union.”