We're on the road back – to a new industrial normal

2021-04-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick's Column: April 2021

I am incredibly humbled to be re-elected, once more, as your general secretary, We have, collectively, met many challenges over the years, and we shall have to be unified, and ready to meet all the post-pandemic challenges, but I want to thank you all for your support.

We continue to be hopeful that the continued roll out of the vaccination process will take us, as a society, and as an industry, on the path to normality. But it will be a new normal, which will be radically different, economically and industrially, to what we have known.

We have a government which misleads Parliament on investment - which has been cut, not increased - and the commitment to rail undermined by announcements in relation to short-haul airlines and billions of pounds dedicated to roads.

We continue to be hopeful

Simply, we will not see a return of footfall in the short- or medium-term. The recent RPI increase in fares will not help and, as we have said, publicly sends out the wrong message. The companies being in emergency measures and/or furlough due to no or little income from the fare box leaves the industry in a state of flux.

Rightly, we are all dismayed at the government’s 1% pay rise for all those they regarded, not so long ago, as NHS heroes, and the public outcry is not likely to stretch to the government edict that you, as key workers, cannot expect any government-funded pay rises for last year and this. We have pointed out that they have no role in our free collective bargaining and will continue to press the point where we can. It cannot be forgotten that we are - as we would and should be as if nationalised - being fully funded by the government at circa £22 million a day, some £10 billion by June, unlike other industries.

Future full timetables are not going to happen, going forward, until footfall returns, which might take years and will be seen by many as counter-intuitive, as limiting capacity may make us less attractive. Uncertainty reigns and, obviously, the previous model, which had failed and collapsed, cannot be sustained with the massive shortfall in income, and the industry will have to consider change to survive to grow again.

The question is how this can be done protecting jobs and futures. This, and not knowing who we may, or may not, be dealing with in the post-Williams world, against a background of economic uncertainty, with increased unemployment and changes to commuter working, which will not be replaced by leisure traffic, especially with the naturally expected reduction in disposable income.

The companies are expressly working to the behest of the government and DfT and are reliant on them for income and funding and there is little point in highlighting how much money they have made in the past. It is up to us to work and - if necessary - fight for the best future possible, for ourselves and for our industry. Please be safe.


Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, general secretary