Train drivers across England walked off the job Wednesday in the first of two 24-hour strikes in a long-running dispute with train companies over pay and conditions. File Photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE
May 31 (UPI) -- Thousands of British train drivers walked out Wednesday kicking off a wave of holiday rail strikes bringing services to a standstill across much of the country in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.
The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen union said the 24-hour strike affecting 15 out of 28 train operating companies was due to failure by management to offer a fair deal for drivers, most of whom have not seen any increase in pay since 2019, according to the union.
The government said it had brokered "a fair and reasonable offer" but ASLEF said the offer amounted to a 20% pay cut.
Services are expected to be severely curtailed across England and Wales with no trains at all in some areas, said the Rail Delivery Group industry body. ScotRail, Scotland's main train operator, is not directly affected but travelers may still be hit because many services are cross-border. London's subway, London Underground, is unaffected.
With a second strike day planned for Saturday which will hit football fans traveling to London from around the country for the football FA Cup Final, the Epsom Derby and families returning from school half-term holidays, ASLEF said there was "no waning in enthusiasm" among its members.
About 20,000 station staff, train managers and catering crew belonging to the much larger National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers are staging their own one-day walkout Friday, affecting 14 train companies.
The strikes are expected to cost hotels, restaurants, attractions and leisure sites $163 million in lost business, according to UKHospitality whose members operate around 100,000 venues across the country.
The government accused the unions of deliberately timing the strikes to impact national events and cause maximum disruption while the unions, which have both rejected pay offers from rail operators, accuse the government of blocking the companies from making reasonable offers.
The train companies are holding out for productivity-enhancing changes to conditions and working practices in exchange for higher pay.
Train drivers were "determined to get a resolution and remain in this for the long haul," ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said.
"We go into talks in good faith, then deceitfully [the Rail Delivery Group] put out deals they know are destined to fail and we can't accept.
"Ultimately, we'll have to solve this -- after four years without a pay rise my members feel they're entitled to one, particularly during this cost of living crisis."