Amid the sound and fury surrounding the RMT’s strike on Southern Rail, one name is gradually emerging as having played a crucial role in having ensured the action went ahead: Peter Wilkinson.
Mr Wilkinson is managing director of passenger services at the Department for Transport (DfT).
The RMT says that last week it was “within an inch” of reaching an agreement during talks at Acas. This account is backed by unnamed “sources” who told The Times that a deal had been “within touching distance” but that Southern’s negotiators had suddenly pulled out of the talks at about 4pm on Friday, leading to the collapse of the talks.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT can confirm that we were within an inch of making progress towards boxing off a deal with Southern in Acas talks on Friday afternoon that was based on the offer from ScotRail, an offer that enabled us to suspend all industrial action in the ScotRail guards dispute.
“We were just getting into the detailed wording when suddenly the plug was pulled and our legs were kicked from under us.
“We have it on good authority that the deal, which would have enabled us to suspend the Southern strike action this week, was sabotaged by the Government with their director of rail, Peter Wilkinson, directing operations from outside the talks.
“We are now taking our protest direct to the DfT.
“We want the Government to stop weaponising the Southern dispute for political purposes and we want them to stop treating passengers and staff as collateral damage in a war that Peter Wilkinson has unilaterally declared on the rail unions.”
It appears to be the case that Wilkinson (paid £280,000 per year) intervened to instruct Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, to reject the deal.
Earlier this year Wilkinson told a Tory public meeting in Croydon:
“Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support,”
“I’m furious about it and it has got to change – we have got to break them,” he added.
“They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards.
“They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.
“They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.”