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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Miriam Burrell

Train drivers strikes could continue over Christmas as fresh disruption begins

Train drivers’ strike action could continue into the Christmas period, a union leader has warned.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the BBC he couldn’t “write anything off”, adding “we’ve been doing this for 16 months, stopping now is not an option”.

A train drivers ban on overtime began on Friday ahead of two days of strikes which will cause fresh travel chaos for passengers.

Members of Aslef at 16 train operators in England are embroiled in a long-running dispute over pay, with no sign of a breakthrough.

The drivers will strike on Saturday and again next Wednesday, coinciding with the annual conference of the Conservative party in Manchester.

They will ban overtime on Friday and from October 2 to 6.

It coincides with Tube strikes, which are set to bring the Underground to a halt on October 4 and 6.

Aslef said the strikes will force train operating companies to cancel all services while the ban on overtime will seriously disrupt the network.

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

Mr Whelan said: “While we regret having to take this action – we don’t want to lose a day’s pay, or disrupt passengers, as they try to travel by train – the government, and the employers, have forced us into this position.

“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.”

He told the BBC that the union is willing to talk but “no one’s interested, they don’t want a resolution”.

Mr Whelan said train companies have no incentive and the Government wanted to pull rail in to “managed decline”.

A spokesperson for Rail Delivery Group, said: “Our offer to Aslef 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.

“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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