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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ross Lydall

Train strikes: Union warns more walkouts on the way as drivers brings railways to a halt

The leader of the train driversunion today warned that more rail strikes were on the way as the 14th major walkout in a pay dispute left rail stations deserted.

Drivers belonging to Aslef walked out at 16 rail companies on Wednesday, resulting in no services on major London commuter routes including Southeastern and Thameslink.

Euston station was deserted, with only London Overground services still running. It was a similar situation at Waterloo as South Western Railway was able to run only an “extremely limited service”. At Victoria, Southern was only running a shuttle service to Gatwick airport.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said union members had voted three times to continue strikes and support was “harder and stronger than before”.

He told the Standard: “There is no waning support for this strike among my members. We are running at 92 per cent to 99 per cent in favour of strike action.

“We have just got to keep going. We don’t have an alternative. There are two options: do nothing or do something. We will keep striking until someone comes to talk to us to find a resolution.”

Mr Whelan said it had not had talks with the rail companies since rejecting a pay offer in April. Mr Whelan last met Transport Secretary Mark Harper last December, and rail minister Huw Merriman in January.

“We are willing to talk to anybody. Nobody seems to want to talk to us,” he said. “If we get to February next year [without a deal], it will be half a decade for some of my members without a pay rise.”

Empty concourse at Euston station (PA)

Aslef has not specified how much of a pay rise it would take to end the strike, which began in February last year.

“We have never put a figure on it, because it’s like selling your house – as soon as we do, someone will come in under it,” Mr Whelan said. “We are willing to come to the table and find a resolution.”

“Quite simply, we are at a point where a very simple straight pay deal for the past two years will get us out of the current situation. My people have no faith in this Government and no faith in the people they work for.

“We don’t have a problem in Scotland, we don’t have a problem in Wales, we don’t have a problem in freight, we don’t have a problem with TfL or the Elizabeth line or Eurostar or anyone else. This is a Westminster-driven problem.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “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.”

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the private train companies, said: “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 £175m from the  taxpayer because revenues are still 30 per cent below pre-pandemic levels - while simultaneously facing unprecedented changes in customer travel patterns.

“This isn’t just costing taxpayers, it’s costing businesses eye-watering sums, and all because Aslef’s leadership refuse to discuss much-needed changes to ways of working.”

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