ASLEF: Train drivers’ union announces industrial action and asks ‘Where’s Wally?’

- Strike days 30 September 4 October
ASLEF have announced two days of strike action on 30 September 4 October

ASLEF: Train drivers’ union announces industrial action and asks ‘Where’s Wally?’

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has today [Friday] announced another two days of strike action – on Saturday 30 September and Wednesday 4 October – and an overtime ban across the UK rail network on Friday 29 September and from Monday 2 to Friday 6 October.

The strike will force the train operating companies to cancel all services and the ban on overtime will seriously disrupt the network as the privatised train companies have always failed to employ enough drivers to provide a proper service – the service they promise passengers, businesses, and the government they will deliver – without asking drivers to work their rest days.

The 16 companies affected include: Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; c2c; CrossCountry; East Midlands Railway; Greater Anglia; GTR Great Northern Thameslink; Great Western Railway; Island Line; LNER; Northern Trains; Southeastern; Southern/Gatwick Express; South Western Railway; TransPennine Express; and West Midlands Trains.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, said: ‘While we regret having to take this action – we don’t want to lose a day’s pay, or disrupt passengers, as they try to travel by train – the government, and the employers, have forced us into this position. Our members have not, now, had a pay rise for four years – since 2019 – and that’s not right when prices have soared in that time. Train drivers, perfectly reasonably, want to be able to buy now what they could buy four years ago.’

Where’s Wally?
Mick said: ‘Do you remember Where’s Wally? Well, what we want to know is Where’s Harper? We last saw the Secretary of State for Transport in December. We last saw Huw Merriman, the Rail Minister, in January. And we last saw the train companies in April. Since then, nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a letter, not an email, not a text message, not a phone call, not a WhatsApp. Not a word!’

Harper needs to step up to the mark
‘So where is Mark Harper? He holds the purse strings. The train companies have told us. They say they cannot act without his say-so. He’s the puppet master controlling the companies. But he’s hiding. What’s the man afraid of? We think it’s time Harper stepped up to the mark…’

Putting that offer to our members
Harper, in one of his rare pronouncements, has said, ‘They [meaning ASLEF] should put the offer to their members.’ What he doesn’t understand is that, since the RDG’s risible offer was made, in April, we have received overwhelming mandates, on enormous turnouts, for more industrial action! So, Mr Harper, the members have spoken and you already know what they think…

‘Also, under our rule book, and we are a democratic trade union, we can only put to members an offer we can recommend, and the offer in April was not designed to be accepted. It was designed to be rejected. Which the RDG knew, because we had told them.

‘I want to be clear, because the train companies, as is their way, have tried to muddy the waters. Their offer – a land grab for all our terms and conditions – was made in the full knowledge that it couldn’t – and wouldn’t – be accepted.’

Do the right thing and come to the table
‘That’s why I am calling on Mr Harper, and Mr Merriman, to come to the negotiating table and negotiate an end to this dispute with us. To do the right thing for the railway – for the companies, for businesses, for passengers, and for staff.

‘It’s time for Mr Harper to stop playing at being the Invisible Man because, at the moment, he is letting Britain down. Anyone would think he doesn’t care…’

Doing deals
Mick added: ‘Doing deals is what we do. In the last twelve months we have successfully struck pay deals with 14 companies. They include freight companies, open access operators, Eurostar, and the passenger companies in Scotland and Wales.

‘We have been unable to do a deal with the 16 train companies, in England, which are controlled by the government. It’s like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The DfT says we need to talk to the train companies while the train companies complain they cannot sneeze without the permission of the DfT.

‘We will talk to anyone. But, at the moment, they will not talk to us. And each likes to blame the other. They are happy, clearly, for industrial action to continue. And for passengers to suffer. We have come to agreements, and have no problems, in Scotland [with ScotRail] and in Wales [with Transport for Wales] where transport has been devolved. This is a dispute in England made at Westminster by the Tory government.’

Is there a way out of here?
We gave the train companies a way out of this dispute which they chose not to accept. Because the government interfered.

We suggested a significant across the board increase for all drivers, at all the companies involved in this dispute, to deal with the cost-of-living crisis. Then we said that other matters could, would, and should be dealt with company by company; ie, bespoke deals rather than one size fits all.

Because there are 16 companies involved in this dispute and drivers’ terms and conditions are different at each of those companies. In fact, at one company, there are, because of amalgamations over the years, three different sets of t&cs! The railway, since privatisation, has become fragmented.

Uncoupling the carriages, as it were, would have given the TOCs, and the government, a face-saving way out. And given us the opportunity to deal, company by company, with any changes and productivity they were looking for. Because, for example, some TOCs have Sundays in the working week, and some don’t. One size does not – and cannot – fit all. Which is why some companies are now not happy with the approach taken by the RDG, and what the government is – and is not – doing.


Note to editors:

We have, so far, called 12 one-day strikes during this 16-month dispute. Our first ballots went out in June last year and our members withdrew their labour on Saturday 30 July 2022; Saturday 13 August; Saturday 1 October; Wednesday 5 October; Saturday 26 November; Thursday 5 January 2023; Wednesday 1 February; Friday 3 February; Friday 12 May; Wednesday 31 May; Saturday 3 June; and Friday 1 September.

We have also withdrawn rest day working – as the rail industry calls non-contractual overtime, which is, of course, voluntary, not mandatory – and is ‘action short of a strike’ from Monday 15 to Saturday 20 May; from Monday 3 to Saturday 8 July; from Monday 17 to Saturday 22 July; from Monday 31 July to Saturday 5 August; from Monday 7 to Saturday 12 August; and on Saturday 2 September.

Our negotiating team – general secretary Mick Whelan, assistant general secretary Simon Weller, and executive committee president Dave Calfe –  met representatives of the employers, the Rail Delivery Group, under the agreed post-pandemic framework of the Rail Industry Recovery Group, on Tuesday 7 February; Thursday 16 February; Tuesday 21 February; Thursday 2 March; Tuesday 21 March; Tuesday 4 April; Thursday 13 April; and Wednesday 26 April to try to resolve this dispute.

For further information please contact:

Keith Richmond
Media & Communications
77 St John Street
Tel: 020 7324 2407
Mob: 07977 498794