Strike by train drivers causes travel disruption for rail passengers

Rail passengers suffered travel chaos on Friday because of a strike by train drivers, with disruption continuing over the weekend amid an escalation of long-running disputes over pay.

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef at 15 train operators walked out on Friday, crippling services across England, with some areas having no trains all day.

Workers in the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will strike on Saturday, the day of the Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool.

Aslef’s general secretary, Mick Whelan, revealed there had been no meetings with the Government since January 6 despite continuing deadlock over the pay row.

Aslef has described an offer of an 8% wage rise over two years as “risible”.

Mr Whelan, who joined picket lines in Manchester and Liverpool, said: “The Government seems to think they can starve us back to work, or that we will give up, but that isn’t going to happen.

“We are in this for the long haul and there will be more strikes.”

Aslef has called further stoppages on May 31 and June 3, the day of the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Mr Whelan accused train operators, and the Government, of trying to take away hard-won terms and conditions in return for a “miserable” below-inflation pay rise for drivers who have not had a wage increase for four years.

The Rail Delivery Group said that after many weeks of negotiations with the Aslef leadership it had made a “revised and fair offer” including a pay rise of 8% over two years.

“It would have introduced overdue, common-sense improvements already in place in parts of the network, which would see more trains running on time for passengers. Sadly, this has been rejected,” said a spokesperson.

Rail minister Huw Merriman confirmed he attended the January meeting, saying he had left unions since then to discuss the Government’s pay offer with the Rail Delivery Group, the body representing train companies.

Mr Merriman said there was an offer on the table for train drivers and urged the union to put it to a ballot of members.

UK strikes in May and June
(PA Graphics)

“The sad reality of this situation is that there are offers on the table which have been given to both the train drivers’ union and the RMT.

“The leadership have chosen not to put those offers to their members and I feel if they did, there would be the opportunity for members to decide if they wish to take them.

“If you look at the train driver situation, they are paid just under £60,000. The pay offer would take them to £65,000 for a 35-hour week.

“We feel these are fair and reasonable, and we need to see those put to their members. So it is not the case that there is not an offer there — the offer is there, we just need it put to members to see what they think about it.”

Mr Merriman said ministers are unable to offer a more modern service or pay for more trains while strikes cost the economy and the rail sector money.

Passengers are being urged to check before they travel on Saturday.

The closed entrance to Moor Street station, Birmingham
The closed entrance to Moor Street station, Birmingham, as members of Aslef strike (Jacob King/PA)

Northern Ireland is not affected by the strikes, while Scotland and Wales will only be impacted on cross-border services.

ScotRail and Transport for Wales were due to run their usual timetables on Friday.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said he expected solid support for Saturday’s walkout.

He said: “This strike takes place in the wake of a recent re-ballot of members working for 14 train operating companies which massively reaffirmed a mandate for further strike action.

“Throughout this dispute the Government has tied the hands of the railway companies and prevented them offering a fair deal.

“We are striking so that the employers and Government can see the huge anger amongst rail workers is very real and they need to recognise that fact, face reality and make improved proposals.

“We are calling for the rail companies to get around the table with RMT and negotiate in good faith for a better deal for rail workers.”

There will be more train services on Saturday than on Friday but many companies are restricting their number of routes and hours of operation.

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