UK hit by another rail strike but talks planned for next week

Members of the Aslef union, which represents train drivers, join picket lines across the country

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Rail strikes in the UK continued on Saturday with train drivers from the Aslef union walking out for 24 hours, although parties on both sides of the dispute said talks were planned for next week.

As a result of Saturday's strike, there were partial or no services running across the country with football fans, tourists and holidaymakers among tens of thousands of passengers affected.

Picket lines were set up across the UK including in Ashford, London, Hull, Manchester and Liverpool to protest about jobs, pay and conditions.

Aslef picket lines formed outside railway stations, and union officials said they expected continued support from the public despite the impact of the action.

The strikes involve nine rail companies: Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.

It has been a summer of industrial action, with the most rail strikes in 30 years taking place over the course of a week in late June, and a Network Rail strike in late July.

Network Rail strike — in pictures

Rail industry representatives and Aslef are expected to hold formal talks next week. Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, and Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan confirmed that the talks would go ahead following the 24-hour action. Both were in uncompromising mood on Saturday, though.

Mr Whelan told the PA news agency that the train companies were unable to offer a pay rise without the permission of the Department for Transport, but the UK government was insisting it had nothing to do with them.

He said that if there is no breakthrough to the long-running dispute, more strikes were likely.

“We don't want to go on strike — strikes are always a last resort — but the companies, and the government, have forced our hand.

“We don't want to inconvenience passengers because our friends and families use public transport, too, because we believe in building trust in the railways in Britain, and because we don't want to lose money by taking industrial action.

“The companies have said that they cannot, or will not, give our members an increase.

“They blame the government — a result, they say, of the dodgy deals they did when the franchises were turned into management contracts — while the government says it's down to the train operators. So we are caught in a Catch-22 situation where each side blames the other.”

Aslef said that drivers on strike on Saturday have not had a pay increase for three years.

The union is also balloting drivers at Chiltern Railways, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express for strikes, with the results due later this month.

Aslef accused of intransigence

Putting the other side, Steve Montgomery said: “The Aslef leadership has for the second time in as many weeks decided to impose yet more uncertainty for passengers and businesses by disrupting passengers' weekend plans.

“My open invitation for talks with Aslef stands. The railway is too important to this country to allow decline but, with passenger numbers still 20 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, securing a bright future means we have to adapt to attract more people back.

“We call on Aslef to come to the table, so we can fund the pay rise we want to give our people while delivering the improvements in Sunday services and greater punctuality our passengers deserve.

“While we will do all that we can to minimise disruption and to get people where they need to be. If you are going to travel on the routes affected, please plan ahead and check the latest travel advice and be aware that services may start later the morning after strikes.”

The plea to cease striking is one unions have rejected all year.

Members of the RMT and TSSA unions will strike on August 18 and 20, while industrial action will be taken on August 19 by London Tube and London bus drivers.

Updated: August 13, 2022, 4:38 PM
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