Minimum Services Levels Act is doomed

The government's new MSL legislation just won't work in the real world

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has spoken out after the Minimum Service Levels Bill received Royal Assent and became law yesterday [Thursday 20 July].


‘We are disappointed, naturally, that the Tories, with their large majority in the House of Commons, have forced this Bill through despite the concerns of MPs and peers and in the face of reason. But this Act poses more questions than answers. As Lord John Hendy QC said in the House of Lords, “How is it actually going to work? What will they do about unusual levels of sickness? It’s impractical. And probably unworkable”.’


The success of ASLEF’s strikes over the last twelve months – bringing services to a standstill – led the Tory government to bring in this law requiring a minimum service level in some sectors – including the railways – in an effort to neutralise trade unions and the bargaining power of workers in our fight for fair pay. But Mick says the idea is ‘pie in the sky’:


‘A minimum service level on Britain’s railways will result in a dangerous level of overcrowding because, when passengers know trains are running, they will try to get on them. Many commuter services run, during peak times, with 1,300 passengers on a 12 car train. If all, or most, of those passengers try to get on MSL services then the overcrowding will put lives at risk. Not just on the train, but on platforms, because there will be fewer services to clear the stations. That’s why the rail industry doesn’t want MSLs and why the Railway Safety & Standards Board has warned against their implementation.


‘The government has not thought through the practicalities. To run, say, 20% of trains will require 40% of the drivers. You can’t just reduce the number of drivers to 20%. There are issues around route and traction knowledge. And having 40% of drivers being paid while delivering only 20% of the services will mean we can extend the disruption caused by industrial action over a much longer period at less cost, in lost pay, to our members. So we will be able to have a week’s worth of action for the cost to members of one or two days’ pay.


‘And unless the government bans picketing – and even this government has not, yet, suggested this – then many drivers will simply not cross an ASLEF picket line.’


The government has claimed that an MSL on the railway could be ‘managed by agreement between the employer and the trade union’.


‘But, if we are in dispute, the relationship is hardly likely to be cordial and collegiate and such an agreement is highly unlikely! MSLs will not make a resolution to any dispute any easier – it will merely prolong an industrial dispute.’


For further information please contact:


Keith Richmond

Media & Communications


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