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Train drivers fight on for pay

25 January 2024

Earlier in the dispute, Aslef members in action, London, November 2022. Photo Workers.

Train drivers, members of Aslef, are continuing their fight for pay and conditions in the face of opposition from train operating companies, backed by the government. An attempt by one company to use the new law on minimum service levels backfired with a quick climb down.

Drivers will take one day’s strike action at each of the 16 operating companies, during the period from next Tuesday, 30 January, to Monday 5 February. And they will work only contractual overtime between 29 January and 6 February.

Immediate response

Government-owned LNER was the only company which said it would impose minimum service levels on the day its drivers planned to strike. Aslef responded immediately: LNER drivers would strike again for five days from 5 February. The company backed down and reversed its earlier decision, so the extra strike days were called off.

This action comes against the background of stalled negotiations, going back to the period of the pandemic. Aslef had agreed to put pay claims on hold in view of the loss of revenue to the industry. Since then the union has reached agreement with train operators in Wales and Scotland, as well as the freight companies and “open access” operators such as Hull Trains and Grand Central.

Holding out

But the main passenger train operating companies in England are holding out. They are represented by the Rail Delivery Group, which made an offer in April 2023 and has refused to negotiate since. The offer was rejected by Aslef on the grounds that a 4 per cent pay rise was totally inadequate and the RDG went back on issues covered in negotiation.

The union’s view is that the offer was designed to be rejected at the behest of government. Aslef has not heard from Mark Harper, the transport secretary, for over a year. During that time the government has taken several decisions that undermine the railways, not least the amputation of the later stages of the HS2 project.

‘The ballot was an overwhelming endorsement of the union’s position.’

The employers try to claim that they won’t negotiate because the union has not put last April’s offer to members. But the offer fell far short of what the drivers expected their union to achieve. And the mandatory ballot last December for renewed action was an overwhelming endorsement of the union executive’s position.

Votes by company ranged from 88 to 100 per cent in favour of industrial action. Turnouts were high too – between 75 and 80 per cent in most companies. These results brushed aside the restrictions in anti-trade union laws designed to limit action. And the drivers’ solidarity has now set aside the first attempt by an employer to use minimum service level provisions.


Aslef and other unions have also been resisting attempts to use agency staff to replace workers on strike. The government lost a court action last year, but it is persisting with a consultation, which closed in 16 January, seeking ways to permit that. Aslef’s response was unequivocal in rejecting the idea as unnecessary and ill-founded.

The government is supporting the employers to the hilt. It has taken on the revenue risk from the companies – replacing failing franchises with concessions guaranteeing fixed profits. And despite talking down railways, passenger numbers are rising again. The public want railways, even if the government does not.