Train drivers’ union ASLEF has announced a new one-day strike in September. It comes as rail companies and the government continue to refuse workers a sensible pay offer. Furthermore, the trade union has backed up the strike with an overtime ban.
Sixteen companies affected
ASLEF announced on 18 August that its members will engage in one day of strike action on Friday 1 September. The decision will affect 16 English rail companies:
- Avanti West Coast
- Chiltern Railways
- East Midlands Railway
- Greater Anglia
- GTR Great Northern Thameslink
- Great Western Railway
- Island Line
- Northern Trains
- Southern/Gatwick Express
- South Western Railway
- TransPennine Express
- West Midlands Trains
ASLEF has also announced an overtime ban for the following day, Saturday 2 September. This overtime ban will coincide with action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT). the RMT previously said its members would strike on 26 August and 2 September. Both unions’ actions will affect many of the same companies.
Contempt from companies and the government
Friday 1 September will mark ASLEF’s twelfth one-day strike in its current dispute. The first was held on 30 July 2022. The overtime ban on 2 September will also be its sixth.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the interests of train companies, said it had made a pay offer to ASLEF. Made in April, it consisted of a 4% raise one year, and another 4% the next. However, the union’s general secretary Mick Whelan described the offer as “risible” at the time. He criticised the offer for not keeping up with the cost of living, which had risen by 10% between March 2022 and 2023 alone.
As a result, Whelan reiterated the point in a press release for the latest announcement:
We don’t want to take this action but the train companies, and the government which stands behind them, have forced us into this place because they refuse to sit down and talk to us and have not made a fair and sensible pay offer to train drivers who have not had one for four years – since 2019 – while prices have soared in that time by more than 12%.
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We haven’t heard a word from the employers – we haven’t had a meeting, a phone call, a text message, or an email – since Wednesday 26 April, and we haven’t had any contact with the government since Friday 6 January. This shows how the contempt in which the companies, and the government, hold passengers and staff and public transport in Britain.
Moreover, ASLEF said its overtime ban will “seriously disrupt the network” because:
none of the privatised train operating companies employs enough drivers to provide a proper service without drivers working on their days off.
Another problem with privatisation
Train drivers in Scotland recently accepted a pay offer from ScotRail. ASLEF members accepted the Scottish government-owned body’s offer of a 5% rise backdated to April 2023, with a further 1% from October. The government-run Transport for Wales made a larger offer to members working in Wales. That means the 1 September strikes will not affect most of Scotland and Wales’ rail networks.
After accepting the ScotRail offer, Kevin Lindsay – the union’s organiser for Scotland – said:
This is a resounding vote in favour of accepting the improved pay offer and it shows the importance of a positive approach to industrial relations.
It is now high time that the Rail Delivery Group and the Tory Government do the same in England and negotiate respectfully and with a willingness to pay our members what they need and deserve.
When the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) accepted a pay deal in March, it pointed out that direct negotiation with employers had played a crucial role. ASLEF’s experiences north and west of the borders appear to back this up.
While Scottish drivers negotiated directly with the Scottish and Welsh governments, English drivers are left to battle with the RDG – a body made up almost entirely of private company representatives.
ASLEF’s ongoing battle isn’t just for fair pay. It’s also a battle against greedy Tory ideology, and that’s something we all need to get behind.
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