The RMT leader, Mick Lynch, said ministers should “stop play-acting” and end the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions on the railway, before a meeting in Whitehall on Monday.
Rail unions and industry leaders were to meet ministers in an attempt to break the deadlock, on the first day in almost a month that the railways have not been disrupted by industrial action.
The rail minister, Huw Merriman, was due to meet the general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, Mick Whelan, followed by Lynch.
Train operators, under the umbrella of the Rail Delivery Group, made a first written offer to Aslef on Friday evening. The RDG said the offer was worth 8% over two years but would require Sunday working. The union is yet to respond but has previously said its members would not accept a sweeping change in terms and conditions for a pay offer substantially below inflation.
The RMT union, representing signallers and maintenance staff at Network Rail as well as train crew, last month rejected offers worth about 9% over two years that included significant changes to working conditions.
The union has long accused the government of blocking negotiations, and controlling the offers that employers have been able to make – even though ministers had initially insisted it was a matter for Network Rail and train firms to resolve.
Before Monday’s meeting, Lynch said: “Today I want to see the government stop play-acting because the truth, written in black and white in their rail contracts, is that they’ve been in complete control of this dispute from day one.
“The minister cannot hide behind this fairy story that he is just a facilitator. His government can end this dispute today by taking out the conditions they put in to torpedo a resolution and let the companies make a deal.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The most important thing for passengers, businesses and the future of our rail industry, is for unions to put an end to these disruptive strikes.
“The rail minister will approach these latest talks as we have done since the start of this damaging industrial action – by working to facilitate reasoned, constructive discussions aimed at finding a swift resolution.”
According to Network Rail, more than £400m in revenue has now been lost to the industry because of a total of 21 days of strikes in Great Britain since last summer.
The government argues that changing travel patterns, particularly in once-lucrative commuter services in the south-east, mean that rail is costing taxpayers ever more and that workplace reform to cut costs is required.