Fair Pay: Stand with Train Drivers
Why are train drivers on strike?
When inflation goes up and pay doesn't, that's a real-terms pay cut!
Train drivers haven't had a pay increase since 2019, we are seeking a fair pay deal for our members who have been experiencing real terms pay cuts whilst private operators and rolling stock companies (who own the trains and lease them back) have continued to pay out dividends to their shareholders, extracting profits from the railways.
Industrial Action: December 2023
Train drivers will be taking strike action, as well as withdrawing overtime working, between 1st and 9th December 2023. Click here to read the press release with full details.
Background to the dispute
During the pandemic, train drivers went out to work to keep the country moving. Rail helped other key workers get to work, and kept goods like food and medicines moving around the country. At the time ASLEF agreed to put on hold any pay claims as the industry worked to help keep the public and transport staff safe. As we emerged from the pandemic it was agreed that pay claims would be made for those train drivers that had not received any pay increases, to reflect their work during that time. During that time despite the decrease in revenue private operators and rolling stock companies continued to pay out dividends to shareholders while those working on the railways have received real terms pay cuts as inflation has risen to historic highs.
In the midst of the pandemic the government stepped in to support the private operators whose revenue dropped with passenger numbers due to lockdowns and restrictions on movement, placing private operators on to emergency contracts. Since then the government has moved from a franchise system to a concession system under which the government now takes on the revenue risk and guarantees a fixed payment to private operators, this has continued to allow private companies to profit from the railways whilst being shielded from financial risk that a drop in passenger numbers would present. This has led to the UK Government and the Department for Transport (DfT) setting the pay level that the industry is able to offer train drivers. This has meant pay offers from train operating companies have been well below the level of inflation and with no ability for the employers to freely negotiate due to the restrictions imposed upon them by the Conservative Government we were left with no choice but to ballot our members for strike action.
Current position of the dispute
We have negotiated pay deals with open access operators, freight operators and passenger operators in Wales and Scotland all whilst we have been in dispute with what is unfortunately a growing number of passenger operators, this has highlighted that this current dispute is one pushed by the Conservative Westminster Government as all of the employers who we are in dispute with are under the DfT's control. To resolve the dispute as it now involves multiple employers, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) stepped in to handle negotiations on behalf of all the train operating companies. We negotiated in good faith with the RDG and believed a deal could have been reached. However, the offer that we received in April 2023 contained red lines which we had outlined to the RDG in our negotiations. This offer was made by the RDG with the intention of it being rejected.
As requested in the offer, we informed the RDG that the offer had been rejected but they have refused to come back to the negotiating table which has left us with no choice but to continue with our industrial action.
The current position after the April 'offer'
Is the union blocking modernisation?
- No, during our negotiations with the RDG we made counter proposals as to how we can modernise Britain’s railways and help them run more efficiently, for passengers and for businesses, in the 21st century. These proposals were rejected and in place red lines were inserted in to the pay proposal from the RDG.
- We have always embraced modernisation with previous modernisation of working practices being negotiated with ASLEF and adopted by the membership, this in itself was reflected in the fact that the offer from the RDG included proposals that were already in the terms and conditions of some of our members due to the fragmentation on the railways.
Why was the April 2023 offer unsatisfactory?
- The offer made by the RDG which we received on 27/04/23 was rejected after being considered by our Executive Committee.
- The offer did not reflect the negotiations that had been had in the weeks leading up to the offer, it took no account of the fragmentation in our industry and could not be applied across the train operators as they all have different terms and conditions.
- Many of the terms and conditions of members on strike already contained the changes that were in the offer, we have always been prepared to negotiate and modernise but the paltry 4% offer did not represent the true value of the productivity that some members would be giving.
- It is not fair to expect some members to pay in their productivity for other members pay, this is why in the negotiations we suggested a company by company series of separate negotiations.
Why hasn't the April 2023 offer been put out to members?
- The April 2023 offer was unsatisfactory and did not reflect the negotiations we had up until that point
- The offer itself asked for it to be considered by our Executive Committee (who are elected by the membership) after which the outcome of their consideration would be relayed back to the RDG. We let the RDG know that the Executive Committee duly considered the offer and resolved that it was unsatisfactory
- Due to anti-trade union legislation we have to re-ballot our members for strike action every six months. We recently re-balloted our members and they showed their dissatisfaction with the offer by voting in favour of further strike action with an average yes vote of 92%!
- It is against our policy (decided democratically by our membership!) to put out an offer to members that we can not recommend
Individual Train Operators, the RDG or the Government?
- The dispute began at one operator and as other pay claims began to be made it became clear that the DfT had set the amount of pay that these operators were able to offer their train drivers
- Operators stated that they were unable to offer any more money than their low offers which did not get anywhere near to meeting inflation as the DfT would not allow them to offer more
- We have members in all of the rail operators employing drivers and we have successfully negotiated deals at the operators who aren't under the control of the DfT
- To try and reach a resolution we met with the Transport Secretary and Rail Minister to move on the dispute
- We agreed to negotiate with the Rail Delivery Group(RDG) who are representing all of the operators with which we are in dispute, the RDG is told by the DfT how much it can offer our members
- It is clear that the DfT is restricting the ability of the employers to freely negotiate with us
Where is the government?
- Our last meeting with Transport Secretary Mark Harper was in December 2022
- We have not had any contact from the government since a meeting with Rail Minister Huw Merriman on 6th January 2023 - we have been very clear to them that we are here and waiting to have meaningful talks to resolve the dispute but Mark Harper and Huw Merriman are nowhere to be seen
- Instead of working to resolve this dispute the DfT is happy to spend more of taxpayers' money on continuing the dispute than it would cost to resolve it
- Instead of getting round the table to negotiate a settlement the government is trying to restrict workers' rights by introducing minimum service levels which will block train drivers, all transport workers, health workers, firefighters, teachers, border security and nuclear decommissioning workers from taking strike action.
Want to support train drivers?
Whenever we announce industrial action we post the details of picket lines on our website and across our socials, keep an eye out for these and pop down to a picket line to show your support and solidarity with striking members. Strike Map also publish details of our picket lines.
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If you want to support striking train drivers who lose earnings on strike days, you can make a donation to ASLEF's fighting fund:
Account Name: ASLEF Fighting Fund
Account Number: 20230973
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Industry Facts and Stats
- Before the pandemic, operators were paying out dividends of £273 million to shareholders. Even in the year of the pandemic they paid out £39 million. As passenger numbers go back up, so will the bumper payouts, total dividend payments for 2021-22 were £121 million.
- Between March 2020 and March 2021 operators were paid management fees of over £132 million.
- Rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which own the trains - often commissioned and developed with public money - and lease them back to the operators, received £3 billion in 2020-21 and their total net profits have increased to 14.4% compared with 2019. One ROSCO (Angel Trains) paid £75 million in dividends in the first quarter of 2022.
- ROSCOs have made huge profits. This has particularly been the case during the pandemic, when profits were guaranteed by the taxpayer. In 2020, the ROSCO Eversholt paid a £46.5 million dividend. Porterbrook paid out £80 million in dividends. ROSCOs invest very little money into the industry but reap huge profits out of it.
- In the list of highest earning public sector officials (senior civil servants and senior officials in departments, agencies, and non-departmental public bodies), 7 out of the top 10 in the entire country are from the transport industry. 5 out of 10 are from rail.
- Private operators that are now running services under National Rail Contracts are paid fixed management fees, whilst the UK taxpayer takes on the cost risk, essentially guaranteeing their profits and allowing money to leave the UK in dividend payments to shareholders