Union boss warns rail strikes could last for years as drivers walk out again

File photo dated 13/12/2022 of empty platforms at Paddington station in London. Rail passengers have been warned to expect continued disruption to their journeys in the aftermath of Wednesday's strike action and ahead of Friday's walkouts. Issue date: Thursday February 2, 2023.
Train drivers have walked out for the second time this week (file photo) Credit: PA

Rail passengers face fresh travel disruption today due to the second strike this week by train drivers - which will leave large parts of the country with no services all day.

Members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) are walking out again in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

Rail operators warned of severe disruption, with trains that do run due to start later and finish much earlier than usual – typically between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

It is likely that Saturday morning services on some lines will be affected because rolling stock will not be in the right depots.

The rail industry said it was working hard to keep as many trains running and criticised the rejection of an offer which would give drivers an 8% pay rise over two years, taking average salaries up from nearly £60,000 a year, to almost £65,000.

The train drivers' union boss warned the strikes could last for years if a new deal couldn't be struck.

Aslef union general secretary Mick Whelan told ITV News 'the people behind me don't want to be losing money'

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Aslef union, said train drivers might enter a second or even third year of striking after four years without a pay rise.

When asked by LBC how much longer union members can financially sustain striking, Mr Whelan said: “I think we’re in this for the long haul. How long is a piece of string?

He told the broadcaster: “If we don’t get a pay rise for four years will it be five, will it be six, will it be seven? Will it be stupid to stop this now then restart it some time in the future because you’d lose any impetus that you’ve gained?”

Listing other sectors on strike, including the civil service, fire brigades and teachers, Mr Whelan added: “This isn’t just a rail problem, the Government’s got a problem everywhere.”

He told LBC that Aslef has made no progress in resolving its dispute with the Government in six months of striking.

Asked how likely it was that a deal could be struck during talks next Monday week (February 7), he said: “We want a resolution. My people don’t want to be losing money, they don’t want to be standing out in the cold.”

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Simon Weller, assistant general secretary of Aslef, said the dispute was going “backwards” because of the lack of progress in months of talks.

He told the PA news agency: “I don’t know whether to point the finger of blame at the ineptitude of the Department for Transport or the Rail Delivery Group.

“We would struggle to recommend a deal of a 4% pay rise for last year and 4% this year if there were no conditions attached, but we are being asked to give up collective bargaining and effectively agree to a no-strike deal.

“Obviously it was going to be rejected – it was designed to fail.”Mr Weller said the attitude among Aslef members was “hardening”, but he believed the fault lay squarely with the DfT and train operators.

He claimed the latest offer would add a “significant” number of contracted hours to a train driver.

On the issue of whether Sunday working should be compulsory, he said: “We have been willing to include Sundays in the working week, but companies find it cheaper to have drivers working overtime on Sundays.”

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “Having made an initial offer which would have taken average driver salaries from £60,000 to nearly £65,000, we had hoped the Aslef leadership would engage constructively to move talks forward, rather than staging more unnecessary strikes. We can only apologise for the disruption.

“To minimise the impact of the Aslef action, we advise passengers to check before they travel, allow extra time and find out when their first and last train will depart.”

It will be the second strike by train drivers this week, after they took part in the huge day of industrial action on Wednesday, which also involved teachers, university staff, civil servants, bus drivers and security guards.

Around 1,900 members of Unite working as bus drivers for Abellio in London will complete a three-day strike on Friday in a separate dispute over pay.

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