The head of the UK’s mainline train drivers’ union said on Wednesday its members had been “in it for the long haul” as they staged the first of two days of strike action this week likely to paralyze most of England’s main rail network.
Mick Whelan, of Aslef, was speaking as his members on 14 train operators refused to work on Wednesday. The measure stopped all trains on a number of operators, including Avanti West Coast, the passenger operator on the main line from London to Glasgow West Coast, and on Govia Thameslink, operator of the Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services.
Other affected operators – including LNER operation on the East Coast Main Line and the Great Western Railway – were running significantly reduced services. South Western Railway is the only DOT-franchised passenger operator that has been largely unaffected.
Drivers will strike again on Saturday, when a stoppage will disrupt flights to the FA Cup Final in London between Manchester City and Manchester United. A separate union, the RMT, which represents other rail workers including train managers and station staff, will strike on Friday, in a stoppage that is expected to cause fewer cancellations.
Whelan told the BBC his union had made “zero” progress so far in talks with the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, or the Department for Transport over resolving the wage dispute. Aslef is calling for a much higher salary package than the offer of 4 percent for fiscal year 2022-23 and another 4 percent for 2023-24 put forward by employers. Drivers will receive any agreed pay increase for 2022 as a lump sum.
Whelan insisted there was “no waning of enthusiasm” from his members for the work.
“We’re determined to get a solution and stay in this for the long haul,” Whelan said.
Whelan said members of Aslife have not received a pay raise since 2019 and that the government, which controls the finances of the rail industry, is blocking a deal.
The Democratic Leadership Group acknowledged that the strikes would cause “disappointment and frustration” for tens of thousands of people. The group predicted that 40 percent of train services would be able to operate on previous strike days and 50 percent during Friday’s high-speed train station strike.
“We understand the impact of these strikes on individuals and businesses alike, and we can only apologize for this unnecessary and devastating disruption,” the RDG said.
The DfT said union leaders had coordinated the strikes to disrupt commuters at a period that would cover not only the FA Cup final but also the Derby horse race at Epsom, which also takes place on Saturday.
“The government has facilitated a fair and reasonable offer of wages,” said the DfT. “Now the union leaders must do the right thing and lay that out on their members.”