Further rail strikes to bring more chaos to train services over weekend

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan on a picket line at Euston station (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan on a picket line at Euston station (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Rail passengers face continued travel chaos on Saturday because of more industrial action by drivers and other workers in long-running disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at 14 train operating companies will strike, while drivers will ban overtime.

Services were crippled on Friday when drivers in the Aslef union walked out, leaving large parts of England with no trains all day.

Passengers will continue to face disruption on Saturday, with trains starting later and finishing earlier than usual.

The RMT said it had received a reply from the Rail Delivery Group to a “road-map” it had suggested last month to break the deadlock.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “After a week, the RDG has formally responded to our initiative to try and reach a negotiated settlement to the national dispute.

“While it is encouraging that the train operating companies want to continue dialogue with us next week, a fresh proposal will be needed to progress this dispute towards a settlement.

“Their most recent proposal has been rejected and we will have to try and see if we can find a way forward.

“Our strike action remains on this Saturday and our industrial campaign will continue until we reach a negotiated settlement on working conditions, job security and pay.

“RMT has laid out a comprehensive framework on how we can reach a negotiated settlement and is prepared to meet at anytime, 24/7.

“It is now up to ministers to break the deadlock and allow rail bosses to put forward a revised offer.

“We have negotiated dozens of deals with rail employers across the country, throughout the last 18 months.

“Yet we are still unable to find a way forward in this dispute which the Department for Transport has ultimate responsibility for.”

Speaking at a picket line in Euston, north London, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency: “The feedback we get – and we talk to drivers every day – is that they’re in it for the long haul.

“You’ve got to remember some of our members, when we get to the end of this year, will be five years without a pay rise, so there’s no sign of any weakening or any lack of resolve, and our members in many cases want to go harder and faster.”

He said he does not currently see an end point to the dispute, adding: “This is purely a political response to the dispute. Only when the ministers take the reins off the train operating companies will this get resolved.”

Robert Nisbet, spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which represents train operators, said Aslef must show “movement” on changes to working practices.

Asked why no talks have been held between the RDG and Aslef since April, Mr Nisbet told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Because they will not accept that core principle.”

He added: “We are looking for movement on that.”

Earlier Mr Nisbet said: “The main problem here at the moment with Aslef is that they won’t accept a link to changing the way that the industry runs.

“We have to face the fact that the industry has changed substantially since Covid because commuters are not coming back in the numbers that they thought.

“There’s a 30% dip in revenue, so we’re asking unions to be realistic, to look at the situation as it is at the moment.”

Operators want to stop relying on drivers working overtime shifts for Sunday services to run.

Aslef claims no train companies employ enough drivers to provide a full weekend service without drivers working on their days off.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “After taxpayers supported rail workers throughout the pandemic, it’s frustrating to see both Aslef and RMT coordinate their strikes with the aim of causing as much disruption as possible on the last weekend of the summer holidays.

“There remains fair and reasonable offers on the table for both unions, one which would bring the average train driver’s salaries up to £65,000 and one which RMT members working for Network Rail accepted months ago.

“Continued industrial action is disappointing and delays the reforms that would ultimately benefit passengers, rail workers and taxpayers.”

Friday’s strike coincided with the final day of consultation on controversial plans to close most railway ticket offices, which has sparked hundreds of thousands of responses from the public.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson added: “The industry will be working hard to keep as many services running as possible. There is no question the strikes called by the RMT and Aslef leaderships are deliberately designed to target passengers who want to enjoy various sporting events and the end of the summer holidays, disrupting their plans, hurting local economies and forcing more cars onto the road.

“This, despite the RMT having repeatedly refused their memberships a vote on offers of up to 13% for the lowest paid over two years, which could easily settle this dispute.

“While we welcome any attempt to resolve this dispute and we are always open to talks, sadly both the content and the timing of the offer made by the RMT leadership on the eve of strike action last week suggests it’s not a serious attempt to move forward.”