Rail passengers face yet more travel hell today because of another strike by train drivers timed for the last weekend of the school holidays, which will cripple services across the country.
The 24-hour walkout by members of Aslef will severely affect timetables, with trains starting later and finishing earlier than usual, with some areas having no trains all day.
The average train driver’s salary is now £60,055 – up from £44,985 ten years ago – with a fifth of train drivers on £70,000 or more. These amounts do not include overtime, rest-day working and other allowances for doing unsociable hours. The average UK salary is £31,876.
The dispute over pay started more than a year ago and remains deadlocked, with no talks planned and no sign of a breakthrough. Drivers will also ban overtime on Saturday, coinciding with a strike by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union in its dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Both unions blame the government for blocking any chance of a deal by refusing to allow train operators to make an offer they can recommend to their members.
A sign informs passengers of the announced train strikes by ASLEF and RMT unions at Brighton Station yesterday
Aslef said today’s strike will force companies to cancel services across the country and the ban on overtime will ‘seriously disrupt’ the network as the union maintains that none of the train companies employs enough drivers to provide a proper service without drivers working on their days off.
The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan has told ministers to ‘come around the table with a realistic offer for pay for our members and give them the due respect they deserve’.
Speaking at a picket line in Euston, north London, he said: ‘The feedback we get – and we talk to drivers every day – is that they’re in it for the long haul, you’ve got to remember some of our members, when we get to the end of this year, will be five years without a pay rise, so there’s no sign of any weakening or any lack of resolve and our members in many cases want to go harder and faster.’
He said he does not currently see an end point to the dispute, adding: ‘Look, we’ve done 14 pay deals in the last 12 months. This is purely a political response to the dispute. Only when the ministers take the reins off the train operating companies will this get resolved.
‘And let’s remember we don’t actually work for the Government, we work for private companies that are declaring hundreds of millions of pounds in profits and paying their shareholders dividends, while not giving the people who work for them a pay rise.
‘Also we’ve seen the slash-and-burn nature of what’s going on with the closure of ticket offices and elsewhere.
‘This is a Government trying to send the railways into managed decline.’
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Further strike action by the Aslef leadership is unnecessary and will cause more disruption to passengers looking to enjoy the end of the summer holidays.
‘The union leadership has its head in the sand and refuses to put our fair and reasonable offer to their members.
‘The offer would increase the average driver base salary for a 4-day week without overtime from £60,000 to nearly £65,000 by the end of 2023.
‘We want to give our staff a pay increase, but it has always been linked to implementing necessary, sensible reforms that would enhance services for our customers.
‘We urge the Aslef leadership to acknowledge the substantial financial challenges facing the rail industry and work with us to achieve a more dependable and robust railway system for the future.’
A station in London during the most recent strikes on August 26
Signs at the ticket office in Datchet Railway Station in Berkshire about today’s strikes
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘After taxpayers supported rail workers throughout the pandemic, it’s frustrating to see both Aslef and RMT coordinate their strikes with the aim of causing as much disruption as possible on the last weekend of the summer holidays.
‘There remains fair and reasonable offers on the table for both unions, one which would bring the average train driver’s salaries up to £65,000 and one which RMT members working for Network Rail accepted months ago.
‘Continued industrial action is disappointing and delays the reforms that would ultimately benefit passengers, rail workers and taxpayers.’
South Western Railway advised passengers to only travel if ‘absolutely necessary’ on Friday, warning that most of its network will be closed.
There will be an ‘extremely limited’ service on a small number of lines, with trains only run between 7am and 7pm.
The same advice was given for Saturday because of the RMT strike and Aslef overtime ban.
Friday’s strike coincides with the final day of consultation on controversial plans to close most railway ticket offices, which has sparked hundreds of thousands of responses from the public.
A protest was held opposite Downing Street on Thursday evening.