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Union criticises Government over role in train drivers’ dispute

Rail passengers are being warned to expect disruption because of fresh strikes by train drivers (Danny Lawson/PA)
Rail passengers are being warned to expect disruption because of fresh strikes by train drivers (Danny Lawson/PA)

A union leader has launched an attack against the Government ahead of a fresh wave of strikes by train drivers, saying ministers have made a long-running pay dispute worse.

Rail passengers have been warned of disruption to services this week as members of Aslef launch a rolling programme of walkouts from Tuesday and ban overtime for nine days from Monday.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan accused the Government of “crass, ostrich-type behaviour”, adding he had not met a transport minister for more than a year despite a series of strikes which have caused travel chaos.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said his members remained solidly behind the campaign of industrial action (Yui Mok/PA)

He said Transport Secretary Mark Harper and transport minister Huw Merriman were “not fit for office”, and had given up trying to resolve the dispute.

Mr Whelan also criticised the new law aimed at ensuring a minimum level of service during strikes, which he has always warned was unworkable and potentially dangerous.

None of the train operators involved in this week’s strikes have said they will enforce the new regulations and are likely to face increased industrial action if they do.

LNER was thought to be considering using the law but did not go through with it after Aslef announced five days of extra strikes, which were later called off.

Mr Whelan told the PA news agency his members remained solidly behind the campaign of industrial action and had proved their support with massive votes in favour of continuing with it.

He said: “We are also receiving huge support from the public. There isn’t a household in the country which hasn’t been affected by strikes over the past 18 months, so people know why we are making a stand.

“It is coming up for five years for many drivers without a pay rise. We have entered talks only to be treated with utter contempt and deceit.

“Crass ostrich-type behaviour by those in government who have no role in our wages or collective bargaining are at the root of all the problems this industry has.”

There will be one-day strikes across 17 different train operating companies between January 30 and February 5, as well as an overtime ban across all train companies from Monday January 29 to Tuesday February 6 which may lead to short-notice cancellations.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper
Mr Whelan said Transport Secretary Mark Harper, pictured, was ‘not fit for office’ (Lucy North/PA)

Passengers have been urged to check before they travel as there will be changes to services across large parts of the network, with some train operators not running any services on strike days.

Services that are running could start later and finish much earlier than usual – typically running between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “There are no winners from these strikes that will unfortunately cause disruption for our customers.

“We believe rail can have a bright future but right now taxpayers are contributing an extra £54 million a week to keep services running post-Covid.

“Aslef’s leadership need to recognise the financial challenge facing rail.

“Drivers have been made an offer which would take base salaries to nearly £65,000 for a four-day week before overtime – that is well above the national average and significantly more than many of our customers, who have no option to work from home, are paid.

“Instead of staging more damaging industrial action, we call on the Aslef leadership to work with us to resolve this dispute and deliver a fair deal which both rewards our people and makes the changes needed to make services more reliable.

“While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced services between Monday to Tuesday February 6, so our advice is to check before you travel and follow the latest travel information.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Aslef’s leadership is refusing to let their members vote on an offer that would see the average train driver’s salary increase to £65,000.

“The Transport Secretary and rail minister have already facilitated talks that led to this fair and reasonable offer from industry – Aslef bosses should put it to their members so we can resolve the dispute, which has already happened with the RMT, TSSA and Unite unions.

“With passenger revenues not having recovered since the pandemic, the taxpayer has had to prop up the railways with £12 billion in the past year alone – these strikes will not change the need for urgent workplace reforms that Aslef continue to block.”