RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has said there is a “disconnect” with UK leaders raised on a diet of Latin and Greek – and gave his frank opinion on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Lynch also called on the UK Government minister to engage in “constructive” talks with the unions to help settle a deal.

It comes after Shapps condemned the union’s claims that he is “wrecking” negotiations as a “total lie”.

Lynch hit back yesterday, saying: “We haven’t made any false claims.

“The railway last week was down by 80%, that has an effect that we don’t particularly want to deploy and they are losing revenue commercially and that hurts them and it hurts our people because they’ve lost their wages. We don’t want that.

“So if Grant Shapps wants to be constructive, that’s what he can do. It’s up to him what his disposition is. I’ll work with Grant Shapps or anyone that has something constructive to say in this dispute.

“He needs to tone down the rhetoric and get on with his job, which is to settle this dispute.

“I think their attitude is not constructive and I think it’s preventing us from getting a settlement.”

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Asked for his opinion on Transport Secretary Shapps, the RMT boss said: “I don’t think about Grant Shapps very much. I know that he’s got a colourful history. I know that he’s an airline pilot of some description and I know that he’s a Conservative politician. He’s got a mandate on that basis.”

Speaking about the Government in general, Lynch added: “They’re not using the system that they want and they’ve never worked in this type of work.

“Many of them have never run a business, but they’ve also never worked on the tools. As my mother would say, they’ve never done a hand’s turn.

The National:

“It’s quite odd. The people who are running this country are brought up on a diet of Latin and Greek and our members are brought up on a diet of getting up at ungodly times to run the transport system. I think there’s a bit of disconnect there.

“If we had people who were used to doing work we might get a better deal out of them.”

But Lynch added: “We’ll speak to whoever is available to speak to. It’s not our choice.”

Lynch said the union has not ruled out further strike action with there being little sign of a breakthrough to the deadlocked row.

He joined workers on a picket line outside Euston Station in central London.

He said: “We’re not ruling out strikes but we have not put down any dates for any strike action.

“We’re going to review with our national executive next week, who have been all the way round the country this week on the picket line, so we’re all going to get together the leadership of the union and see where we are.

“We are not going to name dates immediately and we’re going to continue working constructively with the companies to strike a deal, but that is a really steep challenge at the moment because of the agenda they’ve got and the effects they want on our members.

The National:

“Strike action’s not ruled out and it will have to take place if we do not get a deal, but we’re hoping that we can get a deal and we get some compromise.

“What we try to do is have the most effective strike action if it needs to take place. We’re not just pretending. It’s got to be a coherent and effective strike action because we don’t want to waste our members’ energy on something that doesn’t work. We’ll review that and see what we need to do if we need to take that action.”

Lynch said the structure of the railway is “fragmented” and should be under public ownership.

He said: “I think if we had one coherent railway under the control of a national entity, we’d be in a far better position.”

But he said it is up to Shapps to “make that logical decision”.

Lynch added: “Otherwise we’re going to have to deal with this multitude of employers and multitude of owning groups who are all looking to take profit from the railway while it’s being subsidised.

“That’s a contradiction that can’t continue really.”

On whether people working from home during the strikes has meant there has been less disruption and therefore less impact, Lynch said: “People make preparations and adapt – I’ve got no problem with that. I’m happy that people can make adaptations and they can work from home.”

But he added that cities and towns “need to come back”, and for that the country “needs our railways”.

He said: “The world needs our cities and towns to be vibrant and bustling,” saying the transport system is essential for their economies.

He added: “There are certainly going to be changes which the railways will adapt to.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the public has a right to expect reforms to rail services.

In an interview with Sky News, he said: “I would say, given the circumstances we’re in, I think what we want to see is reform and improvement in the way the railways work, and modernisation.

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“When you’ve got a 25% fall in ridership, which we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got the Government putting billions and billion [into it].

“We’re putting more into the railways than any previous government.

“I think the traveling public has a right to expect some basic reforms, like with ticket offices, like with walking time, and some of these other practices that really nobody defends except the union leaders.”

Responding to a statement by Network Rail to Sky News Breakfast about the progress of talks, Lynch said: “We’ve got to be very cautious about what they call progress.

“They may be progressing their agenda, but it doesn’t mean that our members are going to accept those changes, just because the company wants them, so we’ve got to work that problem through with them.”

He added: “So it’s likely unless we get a lot of movement provided by the Government that the companies can change their stance that there will be more action, yes.”

Lynch said “there’s a long way to go yet” in rail company talks, as proposals will “very difficult to take on board” for rail workers.

He said of the talks: “They’ve given us a lot of detail about what they want from what they might call the new modern railway, what we don’t know is how our members are going to respond to that.

“We hear a lot of the changes they want to make, but our members when they hear it will find a lot of the changes very difficult to take on board, so we’ll have to see what the complete package is and then we’ll have to go to our people and consult them in detail to see if they want to accept this package.

“So there’s a long way to go yet. But most of the stuff that our members voted very heavily in favour for action about are what’s on the table now and they’ve not diluted very much the stuff that they want.”

He said issues yet to be resolved include “severe changes to our members’ terms and conditions, they do want to cut thousands of jobs, they want to recontract virtually everyone that works on the railway on a set of terms and conditions and pay that is lower than we currently have, and that in some ways is a form of fire and rehire”.

He added: “They’re saying we either have to adapt and adopt these new practices, or we will lose our jobs in greater numbers than even we thought, so there is still that constant threat to us, of mass job losses, thousands of jobs, new contracts of employment, new working practices, which will be detrimental to our people and we still haven’t got any offer that’s suitable on pay.”