Trains don’t need ticket collectors because they’re stuck in the “1950s” and “the Ark”, Tory Grant Shapps has proclaimed.
The Business Secretary renewed his war of words with rail workers as he publishes an anti-strikes law in Parliament later today.
Mr Shapps claimed his Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will combat what he called “forever strikes” and protect “life and limb” during walkouts.
Yet there are already agreements to cover paramedics and firefighters – two of the three sectors targeted immediately by his Bill. The third is the railways.
Today’s Bill – which forces some staff to work during a strike – could also hit health, education, transport, border security, and nuclear decommissioning workers.
Minimum service levels will not be forced on them immediately but they’ll be held in reserve as a threat.
Rishi Sunak has refused to deny NHS and other workers could be sacked under the law – as they will lose the normal legal protection they’d get during a strike.
Yet Mr Shapps brushed off concerns, saying: “This sort of talk that somebody will be sacked is no more true than it would be under any employment contract.
“And that’s always the case when people have to stick to the law.”
Mr Shapps claimed the law could be pushed through Parliament in less than six months.
Yet Prof Keith Ewing, President of the Institute of Employment Rights, has branded the law “highly questionable” and said “the government is potentially walking into legal problems”.
Mr Shapps said the law will demonstrate “life and limb must come first” when strike action takes place.
He told GB News: ”In those most recent strikes, the Royal College of Nursing, the nurses, agreed a set national level of support.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get there with ambulances across the country, meaning there was a bit of a postcode lottery as to whether an ambulance would turn up in the case of something serious, like a heart attack or a stroke.
“We can’t have that, so common sense tells us that we need to have minimum safety levels.”
Yet unions insist they did agree minimum cover during ambulance strikes – the next round of which happens tomorrow.
And they are still furious at Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who yesterday suggested nurses would only get better pay if “productivity” improves.
The Mirror understands Mr Barclay is considering two suggestions from unions – a one-off payment to NHS staff this winter, or backdating their 2023/24 pay offer by three months to January 2023 to make it bigger.
But no offer was made in hour-long talks on Monday, which the Royal College of Nursing branded “bitterly disappointing”.
Mr Shapps was asked by GB News today if Royal Mail workers or train ticket collectors should get new jobs in the next year.
He replied: “No that wouldn’t be in my advice, but actually you pick a couple of interesting sectors of the economy.
“Because they’ve obviously changed radically – people don’t send letters like they used to in the past but there is a big and growing parcel business.
“And on the trains, people don’t use tickets like they did in the past so you don’t need people collecting tickets in the same way.
“A lot of that’s turning contactless, a lot of it’s barcodes… People can be used more flexibly.
“For example get rid of some of these working practices which really belong in the ark.
“Particularly on the railways, which I know a lot about, you’ve got some of these working practices which go back to the 50s, 60s, 70s, which could be modernised.
A rail union source branded Mr Shapps’ comments “tripe”.
They come as the government tries to impose “driver-only operation” on trains across the network and close many ticket offices in the name of modernisation.
Unions say this would disadvantage disabled or elderly passengers who need assistance, and people visiting from abroad where English isn’t their first language.
This article was originally published in The Mirror