Rail union barons have been accused of ‘cynically’ conspiring to cause travel chaos this week by refusing to put the Government’s latest pay offer to workers.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said train crews in England are being ‘denied’ the chance to have their say on pay, raising the prospect of walkouts dragging on for months.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, has refused to put the Government’s 8 per cent offer to members and warned he was in it ‘for the long haul’.
Meanwhile, the RMT has snubbed a 9 per cent increase for its members working for 14 train operators covering most of England.
Thousands of train drivers and crew in England walked out this morning – the tenth time since June last year – in the first of three strikes in four days.
Mick Whelan ( pictured centre), general secretary of Aslef, joins union members on the picket line outside Newcastle station today
Whelan (pictured in 2016) has refused to put the Government’s 8 per cent offer to members and warned he was in it ‘for the long haul’
Aslef – which represents train drivers – is striking today and Saturday, while RMT – which represents thousands of train and rail workers – is striking on Friday.
Aslef has also banned overtime work for 15 train operators tomorrow, which is expected to lead to some cancellations.
Striking workers will form a picket line on Saturday, which will hit thousands of fans travelling to the Epsom Derby in Surrey and FA Cup final between Manchester United and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in London.
The strikes will also hit fans attending Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour concert at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and those travelling to watch the England versus Ireland test match at Lord’s.
Analysis by the Mail estimates rail strikes have cost the sector around £900million since last June.
Mr Harper urged union leaders to put the Government’s latest offers to members as they are similar to the Network Rail offer, which was accepted by workers.
He told the Mail: ‘By targeting much-loved sporting events like the FA Cup final and the Derby, rail union leaders have cynically conspired to dampen many passengers’ summer plans this week – but frustratingly, this disruption is avoidable.
‘While Labour suggests otherwise, the Government has done our bit to try and resolve these disputes: meeting union leaders, listening to them before facilitating best and final pay offers.
‘The dispute on Network Rail is now completely resolved after members overwhelmingly voted in favour of the pay offer I had facilitated, clearly recognising those offers were fair and reasonable.
‘However, the well-paid union bosses at Aslef and the RMT continue to block similar offers from train operating companies being put to their members in a vote.
‘That means the men and women working on our railway are not only being denied a say on a pay increase, but some are losing out on almost £1,800 of earnings.
‘All because of strike action being forced on them by their leaders who claim to represent their best interests, but are more interested in playing politics.’
But Mr Whelan snubbed the vote call and claimed that both sides had made ‘zero’ progress.
Speaking from a picket line in Newcastle, he said: ‘Nobody has come to the table with [an offer] that’s viable.
‘We set out our red lines and they keep producing deals with the red lines in them that they know are destined to fail.
‘It seems to us that the Government and the employers don’t want a resolution.’
Mr Whelan also claimed it was a ‘coincidence’ that one of the union’s strike days was the same as the FA Cup final, when asked if it was intentional to cause maximum damage.
UK Commuters have been hit with further travel chaos as rail services across Britain have ground to a halt due to a fresh wave of strikes
Aslef has snubbed an 8 per cent pay hike over two years, which would take the average drivers’ salary from the current £60,000 to £65,000.
There was hope that rail strikes could soon be over after a long-running dispute between the RMT and Network Rail was resolved in March, when workers accepted a 9 per cent offer.
But separate disputes involving more than a dozen train firms remain outstanding.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said: ‘We understand the impact of these strikes on individuals and businesses alike, and we can only apologise for this unnecessary and damaging disruption.
‘While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced train services between Wednesday, May 31 and Saturday, June 3, so our advice is to check before you travel.
‘Passengers with advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.’
Full list of train strikes in May and June 2023
Wednesday, May 31 2023: Strikes by Aslef affecting national rail services
Friday, June 2 2023: Strikes by RMT will affect national rail services
Saturday, June 3 2023: Industrial action by Aslef will affect national rail services