Blow to Government’s minimum service levels law in LNER U-turn 

ASLEF train drivers' strike sees first defeat for the anti-strikes legislation

Train drivers have called off extra strike days after threats to impose the Government’s minimum service levels were withdrawn, in the first test – and defeat – to the Tory’s anti-union legislation. 

Train drivers’ union ASLEF called an extra five days of strikes at LNER last week in response to threats to impose minimum service levels (MSLs). However the union announced that the additional action has now been called off, after reports that the state owned train company LNER no longer intends to put MSLs in place. 

The U-turn has further thrown into doubt the workability of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, with a source telling The Times that the law had been “left in tatters and isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.

The bill came into effect last year and has faced widespread condemnation for undermining workers’ fundamental right to strike.

For train services, implementing the draconian new law would require the equivalent of 40% of the timetabled service to run during strikes. 

Trade unions have warned that the legislation will prove counterproductive and only serve to inflame industrial disputes, a worry also shared by employers. Whilst the government’s own impact assessment said that enforcing minimum service levels would prolong disputes and cause more frequent strikes.

Commenting on the U-turn, Historian Dr Edda Nicolson wrote on X: “Proving difficult for the Tories to even get rail companies to impose minimum service levels. A poorly designed, unworkable and useless law that needs to get in the bin.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, recently expressed solidarity with ASLEF and called the law, “the most grotesque attack on democratic freedoms of our generation”.

Train drivers at LNER will continue as scheduled to walkout from Monday 5 February to 9 February, as part of a long-running dispute by ASLEF members for better pay and conditions. 

General secretary of ASLEF, Mick Whelan, commented on the strikes: “We have given LNER management – and their government counterparts who hold the purse strings – every opportunity to come to the table and they have so far made no realistic offer to our members.”

(Image credit: Flickr – Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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