Shropshire Star

Rail passengers face fresh disruption as train drivers to stage another strike

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef at 16 train operators in England will walk out.

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on the picket line

Rail passengers face fresh disruption on Wednesday because of another strike by train drivers in a bitter, long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef at 16 train operators in England will walk out, coinciding with the final day of the annual conference of the Conservative Party in Manchester.

Many parts of the country will have no services, with those that do run starting later and finishing earlier than usual.

Operators warning of no services include Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Northern, Southeastern and TransPennine Express.

Drivers are also banning overtime this week which will also cause disruption.

The union said train companies have always failed to employ enough drivers to provide a proper service.

Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, told the PA news agency that the Government was preventing a settlement to the year-long dispute.

He said: “Our members have not had a pay rise for four years – since 2019 – and that’s not right when prices have soared in that time.

“Train drivers, perfectly reasonably, want to be able to buy now what they could buy four years ago.”

Mr Whelan accused Transport Secretary Mark Harper of “hiding”, saying the two had not met since last December despite a series of strikes this year which have caused huge disruption.

He said: “He holds the purse strings. The train operating companies have told us they cannot act without his say so. He’s the puppet master, but he’s in hiding.”

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “There is a deal on the table for Aslef that would take average driver salaries to £65,000 for a four-day week – that’s more than double the average UK salary and many drivers top up their income further by working overtime.

“We are ready and willing to talk to Aslef’s leaders so we can end this damaging dispute – but any talks about pay also need to address working practices that date back decades.

“The industry depends on a monthly injection of up to £175 million from the taxpayer because revenues are still 30% below pre-pandemic levels – while simultaneously facing unprecedented changes in customer travel patterns.

“This isn’t just costing taxpayers, it’s costing businesses eye-watering sums, and all because Aslef’s leadership refuse to discuss much-needed changes to ways of working.

“It is obvious that the sector can only fund a pay rise by changing how it delivers services so it can respond to that transformation in how the public use the railway.

“That means putting managers – rather than unions – in charge of planning shifts. It means allowing managers to respond to unexpected staff absences so they can reduce the last-minute cancellations that so frustrate our customers.

“It means giving our customers more reliable train services when they actually want to use them – particularly on Sundays. That is how any industry survives and thrives.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Government spent £31 billion of taxpayers’ money – £1,000 per household – to protect rail workers’ jobs during the pandemic.

“There is a fair and reasonable offer on the table that would take train drivers’ salaries from £60,000 to £65,000 for a 35-hour, four-day week.

“Aslef’s leaders won’t put this offer to their members and instead continue to strike, damaging their own industry in the process.”

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