Aslef drivers at eight train operators vote to strike over pay

Union members overwhelmingly back industrial action that could be as disruptive as RMT strikes in June

Drivers at eight train companies have voted to strike over pay, raising the prospect of further widespread travel disruption this summer.

Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef at Chiltern, Great Western Railway, London North Eastern Railway, London Overground, Northern, Southeastern, TransPennine Express and West Midlands all voted overwhelmingly to go on strike.

Thousands of TSSA union members at Network Rail have also voted for strikes, in separate ballot results announced on Monday.

Staff in engineering, maintenance and control roles voted. The turnout in managerial grades was just below the threshold under union laws, but managers voted for industrial action short of a strike, a result that could amplify the effect of a wider strike.

Drivers at three other companies – Greater Anglia, London Trams and Hull Trains – have already voted to go on strike, and the wide mandate from about 6,000 more drivers in the ballot results announced on Monday means Aslef could stage industrial action as disruptive as the RMT rail union’s walkout in late June.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Whelan, said strikes are “always the last resort”.

Drivers at the eight companies have not had a pay rise in three years, according to Aslef, while operators have offered 2%, well below the current rate of inflation.

More than 90% of the votes cast were in favour of a strike at most of the operators, with a turnout of 83%-93%. Ballots at three more companies – Avanti, CrossCountry and the freight operators Direct Rail Services – close later this month.

Whelan said: “We don’t want to inconvenience passengers – our friends and families use public transport, too – and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike, but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies, driven by the government.”

Separately on Monday, Aslef train drivers at ScotRail voted to accept an improved pay offer, paving the way for the end of weeks of disruption to train services in Scotland.

Whelan said last week that the union would not plan to call walkouts at all the operators where his members voted for strike action on Monday at the same time, “but at some point it could coalesce”.

Any strike dates would not be called in tandem with other unions, but could follow on consecutive days “for maximum effect”.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, said: “We want to see rail unions engage with train operators over the reforms needed to secure a bright long-term future for the industry, including working with Aslef to deliver the more punctual, reliable services we know passengers care about.

“Instead of causing further disruption to passengers and businesses, we urge the Aslef leadership to continue talks.”

Whelan said: “We’re happy to talk to anyone to do a deal and make sure Britain’s railways aren’t disrupted. The government is restricting what the operators can offer, but then refusing to get involved in negotiation. They seem to have no interest in finding a resolution.”

The general secretary of the TSSA, Manuel Cortes, said his union ballot showed the strength of feeling, and the results had greatly increased the prospect of major disruption.

He said the management vote gave the union a mandate to require managers not to cover the roles of their colleagues taking part in strike action at Network Rail. TSSA members at Southeastern also voted to strike.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the threat of strikes was very disappointing , adding: “Train drivers [in Aslef] earn, on average, just under £60,000 per year, more than twice the UK median salary and significantly more than the very workers who will be most impacted by these strikes.”

The RMT union welcomed the news of the vote. Its general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “It goes to show that railway workers across every grade from cleaners, catering staff guards, maintenance staff and drivers are fed up with real-terms pay cuts, attacks on job security and working conditions.”

He urged the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, not to “shackle” Network Rail and the train companies from reaching a deal, saying Shapps should “get around the table or get out of the way because at the moment, he is the major roadblock to a negotiated settlement”.

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Talks restarted on Monday between the RMT and the train companies after a week-long hiatus. The RDG has described talks as constructive, with “active discussion” of reforming “historic inflexible conditions” on rostering and days off for medical appointments.

News of the escalating rail dispute came as Post Office staff in the Communication Workers Union staged a 24-hour strike over pay on Monday, the first in a series planned this month by postal workers.

About half of the 114 crown post offices – generally the larger branches in city centres – were closed by the action. CWU members in the supply chain will strike on Thursday, while Royal Mail workers in the Unite union plan to strike next week.


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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