Train drivers’ union ASLEF has announced a day of strike action after train companies failed to make a pay offer to remotely keep pace with the cost of living increases.
The union’s general secretary Mick Whelan said:
We don’t want to go on strike – strikes are the result of a failure of negotiation – and this union, since I was elected GS in 2011, has only ever been on strike, until this year, for a handful of days.
We don’t want to inconvenience passengers – not least because our friends and families use public transport, too, and we believe in building trust in the railways in Britain – and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike.
But we’ve been forced into this position by the train companies, driven by the Tory government. The drivers at the companies where we are striking have had a real terms pay cut over the last three years – since April 2019.
And these companies are offering us nothing, saying their hands have been tied by the government. That means, in real terms, with inflation running ahead at 9%, 10%, and even 11% this year, according to which index you use, that they are being told to take a real terms pay cut. And that is not acceptable.
Strike action is now the only option available but we are always open to talks if the train companies, or the government, want to talk to us and make a fair and sensible offer.
Members at eight companies – Arriva Rail London, Chiltern Railways, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains – will strike on Saturday 30 July.
We want an increase in line with the cost of living – we want to be able to buy, in 2022, what we could buy in 2021 – for those members – who were, you will remember, the people who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic – who have not had a pay rise since 2019.
It’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to make sure you’re not worse off for a third successive year. Especially as the train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers.
We don’t think we’re special; we believe no worker in this country should put up with pay cuts year after year just because this government has allowed inflation to rise. Whatever happened to the Tory wish for good, well-paid, jobs? Obviously that’s only for the CEOs, not for the workers doing the job.
If a train driver doesn’t get a cost of living increase, it won’t mean that a nurse, or care worker, or cleaner will get one. And this isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about setting one worker against another.
Wage rises aren’t exacerbating inflation, anyway. Excess profiteering is. The government isn’t asking companies to cut profits or dividend payments to help manage inflation. Wages are chasing prices, not putting them up.
Driving a train is a professional, highly technical and safety-critical job requiring a year’s training. Drivers take responsibility for the lives of up to 1,300 people on any journey.
Attempts by the government and the train companies to claim that money for decent pay rises doesn’t exist simply do not stand up to scrutiny. Before the pandemic, operators paid out dividends of £262 million. In the year of Covid, they still paid out £38 million. With passenger numbers almost back to pre-pandemic levels, massive payouts are again back on the train companies’ agenda:
- Between March 2020 and March 2021 train operators were paid management fees of more than £132 million
- The rolling stock companies – which buy the locomotives and carriages to lease to the operators – pocketed £3 billion in 2020/21 – a 5% increase on 2019/20. This figure has doubled since 2015/16. Eversholt, in 2020, paid a £46.5 million dividend. Porterbrook paid out £80 million
- In the list of highest earning public sector officials (senior civil servants and senior officials in departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies), 9 out of the top 10 are from the transport industry and 8 of the 10 are in rail. Top of the list is Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd, who earns £620,000. Next is Andrew Haines, CEO of Network Rail, on £585,000
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