‘The Government has just walked off the pitch’: ASLEF eviscerates ministers’ inaction over train drivers’ strike

'It’s almost as if they’re not very good at this’

Assistant General Secretary of the train drivers’ union ASLEF gave a scathing review of the Government’s handling – or lack of – towards the long-running strike action by train drivers. 

It comes as the union has announced a fresh set of strike dates, with train drivers taking further industrial action between Tuesday 30 January and Monday 5 February, in their call for better pay and conditions. 

Simon Weller of ASLEF told Sky News yesterday it was “ridiculous” that the dispute had been going on for 18 months now, as he laid into the inaction from Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

“Why have they just gone to ground? It’s almost as if they’re not very good at this. We want to talk, we want to resolve this,” Weller told the broadcaster.

He was then presented with the government’s most recent statement on the new strike announcement, which continued the narrative of using train drivers’ current salaries as a justification for not supporting a pay rise, despite steep rises in inflation and wage stagnation.

Weller interjected: “It’s the same statement that Harper’s been putting out since April – there’s no change. 

“There’s a market economy, if you want a market economy, that’s the rate for a train driver, but the bit he doesn’t include is the wholesale change to the terms and conditions. The productivity that they want but don’t want to pay for, across 16 different companies that all have different terms and conditions.

“It doesn’t work, it’s a one size fits all, it’s vague and it just cannot be implemented in the way they want it. 

He added: “We told them this at the time in April and said let’s talk about it, let’s continue talking, let’s get this resolved, but they’ve just walked off the pitch”.

According to ASLEF, it has been over a year since the union has received any contact from the Department for Transport. 

Commenting on the fresh strike action, ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: “Many of our members have now not had a single penny increase to their pay in half a decade, during which inflation soared and with it the cost of living.”

“Train drivers didn’t even ask for an increase during the Covid-19 pandemic when they worked throughout as key workers, risking their lives to allow NHS and other workers to travel.”

The strikes could also test the Government’s draconian Minimum Service Levels legislation, which Weller said would be an “absolute catastrophic” if train companies attempt to implement it. 

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

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