Train drivers have announced a new round of strikes, adding further misery to tired train passengers.
Drivers from the dedicated union Aslef and the wider railway union RMT will leave on February 1-3 as a long-running labor dispute continues.
The strikes are the last this year after railway workers launched industrial action in the first week of January – delaying the return to office until January 9 for many. The RMT staged two 48-hour strikes between a single day of strike action by Asle. It meant that train traffic was halted from Tuesday 3 January to Saturday 7 January.
When are the next train strikes?
Both Asle and the RMT have announced strikes February 1 and February 3.
Will services be affected on the following days?
Yes. This is because on strike days, locomotives and their carriages often become stranded at the wrong depots and must be moved the next morning before they are ready to serve passenger services.
Which train companies are affected by strikes?
Affected businesses include Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; Cross Country; East Midlands Railway; Great Western Railway; Great Anglia; GTR Great Northern Thames Link; London North Eastern Railway; Northern trains; Southeastern; South/Gatwick Express; South Western Railway (depot drivers only); SWR Island Line; TransPennin Express; and West Midlands trains.
How many trains will run?
Typically, when drivers go on strike, between 10% and 20% of a normal timetable can be served alone.
Who is to blame for the dispute?
Unsurprisingly, both sides – unions on one; Network Rail, train operators and the government on the other hand – blame each other.
Rail unions say their members have not received a pay rise in the past three years. Combined with skyrocketing inflation, this means that many workers are effectively accepting a pay cut in real terms – ie, because prices are rising so quickly, static wages are actually worth less.
However, union leaders are conveniently ignoring that none of the rail sectors have taken a leave of absence during the pandemic – this despite running significantly fewer services. Had they been transferred on the government’s furlough initiative, railway workers would have suffered an effective pay cut of 20 per cent under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
However, the government has not covered itself with glory either.
Network Rail, owner of tracks, stations and signals, and train operators have effectively been nationalised. This means any wage increase above the 2 per cent norm in the public sector must be approved by Westminster – and politicians want the companies to justify any increases by identifying cost savings to cushion the impact on the Treasury.
Although the RMT has rejected a series of pay offers from Network Rail, train operators were not allowed to bid more than 2 per cent until last month – and only then with the government’s condition that all on-board guards be cut off.
Such a condition is a “red line” for both the RMT and Aslef, who claim it was inserted to make the wage deal fail.
So when will this end?
The February strikes may not be happening at all – although the RMT said the February 1 action was linked to a wider “TUC day of action, where several unions are coordinating their strikes amid the cost-of-living crisis”.
Nevertheless, if ministers backtrack on demands to cut guards and sweeten a wage deal by a percentage point or so, we could soon see the RMT take it to a vote of their members with a recommendation to support.
Likewise, if a similar deal were offered to Aslef, the same could happen – although the negotiations lag behind those of the RMT.
It’s a similar situation on Network Rail, where slightly sweeter terms may be enough to break the deadlock.
Mick Lynch of the RMT is under increasing pressure from its members to reach an agreement. They’ve lost 18 days’ worth of wages since the fallout began — and are also missing out on pay raises of about 9 percent over two years.
For Mick Whelan at Aslef, it’s a different kind of pressure. The drivers’ union is seen as less militant, but will still stick to its demands for wage increases close to or even at rates of inflation.