A rail union boss has urged the government to “take the shackles off the privateers” as thousands of train workers walk out over pay and working conditions in the latest of a series of strikes.
Around 9,000 train drivers walked out on Wednesday as part of fresh strike action by the Aslef and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) union, leading to the cancellation of services across the country.
The strike affected the following operators: Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia, Great Western, LNER, Northern, Southeastern, Transpennine Express, West Midlands Trains, Hull Trains and East Midlands Railway.
The latest strike action marks the second this week, following the biggest walkout of the year on Saturday. Another will take place on Saturday by the RMT union.
Speaking to The Independent on the picket line at Euston, general secretary of Aslef Mick Whelan said that the strike action will end “when someone talks to us”.
Mr Whelan said that train drivers in rail operators in England face a third year without a pay rise, pointing out that deals have been achieved in Scotland and Wales.
He said: “What we need is for the government to take the shackles off the privateers.
“The privateers have entered into a contract [with the government], not to offer more than 2 per cent on pay. When we talk to the government they tell us to go and talk to the people we work for.
“Everybody we work for is paying out to their shareholders. Everybody we work for is turning over hundreds of millions of pounds out of the taxpayer. Yet the people that are generating that money, all railway workers and train drivers, are not getting their share.”
Asked when the strikes might end, he said: “It ends with someone talks to us.”
Mr Whelan said the current wave of train strikes were the first railway dispute he has been involved in where transport unions have “the approval of the public”.
He said: “At this moment in time, we are not getting the brickbats and the abuse that we used to get, because people do see that we’re all in it together.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a railway issue whereby we’ve had the approval of the public and that’s different for us.
“That’s because it is barristers, it is teachers, it is lecturers, it is everybody across all sectors all feeling the pinch at the same time and this can only be down to the government.”
Services are likely to be disrupted into the early morning of Thursday after Wednesday’s strike. The disruption will affect football fixtures and the final day of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
It comes as Aslef announced its members working on the Croydon Tramlink have rejected a pay offer and will strike on 10 and 11 October.
The union’s London officer, Finn Brennan, said: “The management’s offer of 4.75 per cent is far below the current rate of inflation and would mean our members face real-terms pay cuts.”
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan urged rail unions to settle their disputes. She said trade unionists should take a seat at the negotiating table and be prepared for a compromise.
She said: “My message to the trade union membership is simple: please take your seats at the negotiating table and let’s find a landing zone which we can all work with. Punishing passengers and inflicting damage on our economy by striking is not the answer.”
Ms Trevelyan said there is a deal to be done “that will require compromise”. She added: “I want to see positive proposals to bridge the differences.”
With all services on Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains canceled on Wednesday, a few delegates at the Tory conference are reported to have left the event on Tuesday evening.
RMT boss Mick Lynch and assistant general secretary Eddie Dempsey also attended the picket line for the latest strike.
Speaking to The IndependentMr Lynch said “supporting our Aslef brothers and sisters is the right thing to do.”
“They are after the same objectives as we are which is a pay rise for our members which we haven’t had for three years.
“The companies are looking for fundamental changes which we think are detrimental and we can’t accept that imposed. There’s a lot to cover, we are out supporting our Aslef brothers and sisters and that’s the right thing to do.”