In a continued saga of discontent, the leader of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, has warned the public of more rail strikes looming on the horizon. The warning comes on the heels of the 14th major walkout, leaving rail stations eerily deserted as commuters faced unprecedented disruptions.
On Wednesday, Aslef drivers initiated strikes across 16 rail companies, paralyzing services on vital London commuter routes, including Southeastern and Thameslink. Euston station stood desolate, with only a few London Overground services operating. Similarly, South Western Railway managed only an “extremely limited service” at Waterloo, and Southern ran a mere shuttle to Gatwick airport from Victoria.
Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, expressed the unwavering support of union members for the strikes. He stated that the support for the industrial action remained steadfast, with an overwhelming 92% to 99% of members in favor of the strikes. Whelan emphasized, “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.”
Despite the magnitude of the strikes, discussions between Aslef and the rail companies have remained elusive since the rejection of a pay offer in April. Whelan highlighted the absence of dialogue, stating, “We are willing to talk to anybody. Nobody seems to want to talk to us.” He stressed that the lack of resolution was plunging some members into a half-decade without a pay rise if a deal wasn’t reached by February the following year.
Notably, Aslef has refrained from specifying a precise pay rise figure, a deliberate choice to maintain negotiation flexibility. Whelan justified this decision, comparing it to selling a house, where disclosing a price prematurely could undermine their position. He reiterated Aslef’s willingness to collaborate, emphasizing the need for a straightforward pay deal to resolve the ongoing crisis.
A spokesperson from the Department for Transport argued that a fair and reasonable offer had been presented to Aslef, suggesting an increase in train drivers’ salaries from £60,000 to £65,000 for a 35-hour, four-day workweek. The spokesperson criticized Aslef’s leadership for not presenting this offer to its members and condemned the ongoing strikes for damaging the industry.
The Rail Delivery Group, representing private train companies, expressed their readiness to engage in discussions. They urged Aslef’s leaders to consider not only pay matters but also address outdated working practices that have persisted for decades. The group highlighted the financial strain caused by the strikes, with taxpayers burdened by monthly injections of up to £175m and businesses incurring substantial losses due to the disruptions.
As the standoff continues, commuters and businesses anxiously await a resolution. The impasse underscores the urgent need for constructive dialogue, where both parties must navigate the complexities of pay negotiations and working practices to salvage the rail industry from further turmoil.