The head of the UK’s biggest transport union has said he will not “disarm” himself by agreeing to preconditions for wage negotiations, at the start of 48-hour strikes that will cause widespread disruption of train services. across the UK on a busy sports weekend.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch he told the bbc It would be “completely irresponsible” for the union, whose members withdrew on Friday, to sign the terms set out by the train operating companies represented by the Rail Delivery Group.

The ongoing dispute over wages between the RMT and employers, which started in june last yearIt comes as workers in the public and private sectors push for bigger raises amid the cost of living crisis.

The two days of strike action will affect most train operators in England, with a strike on Friday by RMT-affiliated guards and station staff roughly halving the number of services. Even fewer services are scheduled to run on Saturday due to a strike by the train drivers’ union Aslef, which is locked in a separate payment dispute with 14 train operators.

Saturday’s strike will be particularly severe for people trying to make it to two of England’s biggest annual sporting events – the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London and the Derby race at Epsom Downs racecourse in Surrey.

The cup final is between Manchester United and Manchester City, whose supporters would normally have made heavy use of the Avanti West Coast service.

Aslef and RMT say that the payment offers for the financial years 2022-23 and 2023-24 amount to cuts in real terms. Train operators have proposed 4 percent pay rises for both years for Aslef members, while RMT workers have been offered 5 percent raises for last year and 4 percent this year.

The offer to the RMT, which settled a long-running wage dispute with the owner of the Network Rail infrastructure in March, includes guaranteed cash floors that would give the lowest-paid staff a raise of up to 13 percent in both years.

Lynch said on Friday that as part of a deal, the RDG had ordered the union to declare the dispute resolved before beginning three months of talks on reforms, including closing underused ticket offices.

“They demanded that we do that without any mandate [for further strikes] and without any influence at the negotiating table,” he told the BBC. “They wanted us to disarm at the negotiating table and we just can’t do that. That would be completely irresponsible.”

In a separate letter to MPs, Lynch claimed that the dispute had already cost the economy nearly £5bn. The figure was mainly based on the claim by lobby group Hospitality UK that its members had lost £3.25bn in revenue from the walkouts.

The RDG said it disputed Lynch’s characterization of preconditions and that RMT negotiators had a history of agreeing to terms, only to be overturned by members of the union executive.

He called on union leaders “to seriously engage with the financial challenges facing the industry. . . and get back to the table so we can resolve this dispute.”

In an effort to make up for the disruption, the Football Association has organized 120 coaches, 60 for fans from each club, to bring fans from Manchester to London on Saturday. It has also arranged for additional car parking at Wembley.

Meanwhile, Epsom Downs Racecourse has made additional parking available for the tens of thousands of people expected to attend, warning that there will be no nearby train stations open.

The unions have reached separate wage agreements with Transport for London, Transport for Wales, Merseytravel and ScotRail, meaning their services will not be affected. Three “open access” commercial operations (Hull Trains, Grand Central and Lumo) are also exempt.

The Transportation Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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