Network Rail boss slammed for suggesting some lower paid workers ‘should’ve worked harder at school’

Nicky Hughes made the comments as she defended the pay of senior leaders

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A Network Rail manager has been slammed after suggesting that some lower paid workers “should’ve worked harder at school”.

Nicky Hughes, Network Rail’s head of communications in the Wales and western region was criticised after making the comments while defending the high pay of senior leaders.

Ms Hughes said: “Yes, there are some people in our business who are on high salaries.

“We are a massive multibillion pound business, with complex finances, risks, governance, public and political scrutiny and we also have some of the UK’s biggest construction projects.

Some Network Rail members are being asked to vote whether they should strike
Some Network Rail members are being asked to vote whether they should strike

“Managing businesses like these are enormously complex and complicated. It’s certainly not a job I or many other people can do.

She added: “That doesn’t mean senior managers and leaders are always right… far from it, but equally we should be fair and recognise that all businesses – public and private – compete for managers who have these skills and pay accordingly.

“It’s a lesson to those of us who should have probably worked harder at school.”

The boss later apologised for her comments, saying: “I’m very aware, as a single child of a single parent, who grew up on a tough council estate reliant on free clothing vouchers and free school meals, that life isn’t that easy or simple for a lot of people for many, many reasons.”

But her remarks have still been slammed by some, including by Transport Salaried Staffs' Association general secretary Manuel Cortes who claimed that the post shows “how desperately out of touch the company's fat cats really are.

He added: “It insulting to suggest that workers should've worked harder in school, rather than acknowledging the very real cost-of-living problems people suffer when their pay fails to keep up with inflation.”

While a Network Rail spokesman said her comments had been “misconstrued”, adding she was “referring to her own experiences”.

It comes as up to 40,000 RMT union members throughout Network Rail are being asked to vote on whether they should strike amid a dispute over pay.

If workers vote yes, there could be “the biggest rail strike in modern history”, the RMT added.