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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

Nine days of rail disruption begins as Aslef industrial action gets under way

LNER trains are seen at the Kings Cross Station in London, Britain, 22 July 2023.
The rolling strikes between Saturday 2 December and Friday 8 December will hit LNER and East Midlands services first. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Another nine days of disruption for rail passengers has begun as train drivers in the Aslef union start an overtime ban and a series of rolling strikes halting services across Britain, in a long-running dispute over pay.

Drivers will be taking industrial action at train operating companies (Tocs) contracted to the Department for Transport, striking for 24 hours at each one on different dates between Saturday 2 December and Friday 8 December. The strikes will stop most or all trains at the affected operators in England and also hit some cross-border services to Scotland and Wales.

Drivers will also refuse to work overtime from Friday until Saturday 9 December, increasingly the likelihood of disruption at operators that rely on rest-day working.

In a separate development, train and station staff in the RMT union have voted to accept a modified pay deal for 2022-23, ending strikes for now.

Aslef, however, has had no talks with industry representatives or ministers since the spring, when the drivers’ union rejected a deal worth 8% over two years.

Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said: “We are going on strike again not to inconvenience passengers, but to express our disgust at the intransigence of this government, and the bad faith shown by the private companies which employ us.

“It is clear that the Tory government does not want to resolve this dispute … We are prepared to come to the table and negotiate, but the Tocs – and the Tories that stand behind them in what is turning into a political, rather than an industrial, dispute – simply can’t be bothered.

“They are happy to see this dispute rumble on, for passengers and businesses to suffer, and to drive Britain’s railways – once the envy of the world – into a managed decline.”

Whelan said Aslef had won overwhelming mandates from its members since April to continue strike action. Drivers had staged 14 one-day strikes nationally since July 2022, and around six weeks of overtime bans, before the latest action began.

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said the union was continuing “to block their members from having a say on the offer that would take train drivers’ median salaries from £60,000 to £65,000 for a 35-hour, four-day week. Aslef should follow the RMT’s lead and give their members a say.”

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “We want to reach a fair agreement which will get more trains running on time and put the railway on a sustainable footing, at a time when taxpayers are contributing an extra £54m a week to keep services running post-Covid. Instead of staging more damaging industrial action, we call on Aslef to work with us to resolve this dispute.”

Drivers will go on strike at East Midlands and LNER this Saturday; at Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern Thameslink and West Midlands on Sunday; at C2C and Greater Anglia on Tuesday; at Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express and SouthWestern on Wednesday; at CrossCountry and GWR on Thursday; and at Northern and TransPennine Express next Friday.

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