As the latest rail shutdown across England begins, the boss of the train drivers’ union has warned: “This is going to go on until the government give us a solution.”
Aslef, and the larger RMT rail union, are involved in parallel disputes on pay, jobs and working arrangements with the train operating companies (TOCs) that are contracted by the government to run services.
The Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan, told The Independent: “This is a political dispute caused by the government. If it had been an industrial dispute left solely to the employers and the unions, I think it would have been resolved by now.
“We don’t have a problem in Scotland; we don’t have a problem in Wales; we don’t have a problem with freight; we don’t have a problem with open access or with all the other train operators we deal with. We’ve done 14 pay deals in the last 12 months.
“But in the government-controlled TOCs they’ve done, as we know, a rather bizarre contractual thing – where the employers that we’ve worked with for two-and-a-half decades have agreed with the government not to give us a pay rise, while they are making hundreds of millions of pounds and paying dividends to their shareholders.”
Today marks the 12th strike day by members of Aslef since national rail walk-outs began in the summer of 2022. On Saturday, train drivers will withdraw non-contractual overtime at the same time as up to 20,000 members of the RMT will stop work in their latest national strike.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, said: “Further strike action by the Aslef leadership is unnecessary and will cause more disruption to passengers looking to enjoy various sporting events and the end of the summer holidays.
“The union leadership has its head in the sand and refuses to put our fair and reasonable offer to their members. The offer would increase the average driver base salary for a four-day week without overtime from £60,000 to nearly £65,000 by the end of 2023.
“We want to give our staff a pay increase, but it has always been linked to implementing necessary, sensible reforms that would enhance services for our customers.
“We urge the Aslef leadership to acknowledge the substantial financial challenges facing the rail industry and work with us to achieve a more dependable and robust railway system for the future.”
But Mr Whelan described the changes as “basically a land grab for terms and conditions right across the board for a 20 per cent pay cut.”
He said: “That isn’t going to happen. This is going to go on until the government give us a solution.
“There’s an assumption amongst the public that the fares have gone up to pay our wages. We haven’t had a pay rise for five years.
“While the members want us to go on strike to fight for their futures and their future conditions, we’ll continue to do so.”
Most train operators hit by the strike have cancelled all trains on Friday. A few train operators – notably Greater Anglia, GWR, LNER and Southern – are running a skeleton service during limited hours, mainly on links to and from London.
Transport for Wales and ScotRail trains are running normally – as are the London Underground, the Elizabeth Line and the London Overground network. At Euston station in the capital, the only link running is the London Overground to and from Watford Junction in Hertfordshire.