Train drivers are to stage a fresh strike early in the New Year, threatening five days of travel chaos as people return to work after the festive break.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef at 15 train companies will walk out on Thursday January 5 after voting overwhelmingly for more industrial action in the long-running dispute over pay.
Meanwhile workers at the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 14 train operators are planning to strike on January 3, 4, 6 and 7, meaning services are set to be crippled for a week.
The companies affected by the Aslef strike are Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, GTR Great Northern Thameslink, London North Eastern Railway, Northern Trains, Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, South Western Railway (depot drivers only), SWR Island Line, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Trains.
Aslef members will be assembling on picket lines on January 5 with members from 15 companies walking out. Pictured are rail workers on the picket line at Grand Central Station, Birmingham on November 28
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘We don’t want to go on strike but the companies have pushed us into this place.
‘They have not offered our members at these companies a penny, and these are people who have not had an increase since April 2019.
‘That means they expect train drivers at these companies to take a real-terms pay cut, to work just as hard for considerably less, when inflation is running at north of 14 per cent.
‘The train companies say their hands have been tied by the Government, while the Government, which does not employ us, says it’s up to the companies to negotiate with us.
‘We are always happy to negotiate – we never refuse to sit down at the table and talk – but these companies have offered us nothing, and that is unacceptable.’
Trains will stop running on Christmas Eve as early as 8am because of strikes by the militant RMT union.
As a result rail bosses are advising families to set off the day before in some parts of the country if they want to guarantee seeing loved ones this Christmas.
The last London-bound train from Edinburgh will set off at 8am, while the final service in the opposite direction will leave at 11am.
The icy weather combined with the latest winter rail strikes have already had a hit on traders, with footfall on high streets down 10.2 per cent in a week.
Railway unions have already caused months of misery for commuters, with strikes having blighted services throughout the year. Pictured: the RMT picket line in Reading on December 17
Railway strikes are now planned for January 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, bringing a fresh wave of misery for commuters across the UK
Aslef had to ballot members again on the latest walkout in January because a mandate, under the law, is only valid for six months, and said its members voted overwhelmingly, again, to take strike action.
Mr Whelan added: ‘The resolve of our members is rock steady. A 93 per cent “yes” vote – up on the very high figure last time – on an average turnout of 85 per cent shows that our members are in this for the long haul. It shows just how angry and determined we are.
‘We now have a new mandate for industrial action for the next six months. The way to stop this is for the companies to make a serious and sensible offer and for the Government not to put a spoke in the wheels.
‘We don’t want to inconvenience passengers. Our friends and families use the railway, too, and we believe in investing in rail for the future of our country – and drivers don’t want to lose a day’s pay.
‘That’s why strikes are always a last resort, but the intransigent attitude of the train companies, with the Government acting, with malice, in the shadows, has forced our hand.
‘Because these drivers, who were the men and women who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic, have not had a pay rise for nearly four years.
‘With inflation running at 14 per cent the companies and the Government are saying that they want us to take a real-terms pay cut.
‘The companies need to come to the table with a proper proposal to help our members, their drivers, buy this year what they could buy last year.
‘That is the way to prevent another strike and all the disruption that causes. The ball is now firmly in the train companies’ court, and we are calling on the Government to help – and not hinder – the negotiating process.’
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group added: ‘Further strikes – on top of those already announced by the RMT – will disrupt the New Year travel plans of millions, taking even more money out of the pockets of railway staff.
‘Industrial action has already cost the industry millions in lost revenue, and more strikes threaten the industry’s long-term sustainability.
‘No-one wants to see this strike go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this damaging disruption.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talks with Nato troops at the Tapa military base, in Estonia
Aslef workers will be going on strike on January 5, bringing five days of New Year travel chaos on the railway lines. Pictured are Aslef members on November 28 in London
‘We want to work with Aslef to end this dispute that is harming passengers, the industry, and their members.’
News of the strikes comes hours after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned striking workers he will hold out against their ‘unreasonable’ pay demands for months if necessary.
In an interview with the Mail, the PM flatly rejected reports that he is preparing to climb down in the trial of strength with union leaders.
He said he is ‘incredibly disappointed’ by the industrial action threatening to paralyse key services, ‘particularly at Christmas, particularly when it impacts people’s health’.
And Mr Sunak warned striking paramedics not to follow through with their threat to refuse help for those in distress during Wednesday’s walk out, including any elderly person who suffer a fall.
Calling on the unions to abandon the strikes, Mr Sunak added: ‘I really urge the unions to consider the impact these strikes are having on people’s lives and their health and to consider whether that’s really appropriate.’
Brits have been warned to brace for one of the worst Christmas getaways ever as strikes coincide with the festive rush to cause travel chaos.
The AA is predicting widespread disruption on the roads, with 20million car trips set to take place in the run-up to Christmas Day amid walkouts on the railways.
On Monday, National Rail boss Andrew Haines slammed the RMT union for causing ‘needless misery’ to travellers and urged the union to agree a deal.
Meanwhile, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have agreed to limit ticket sales for UK-bound flights to Heathrow Airport due to walkouts by Border Force agents.
‘Chaotic’ scenes have already been reported at the UK’s biggest airport, with some passengers complaining of waiting two hours to collect their bags this morning.
The AA is predicting widespread disruption on the roads, with 20million car trips set to take place in the run-up to Christmas Day. Pictured: The M25 in Dartford, Kent
Around five million UK holidaymakers are expected to take a foreign trip over the Christmas and New Year period. Pictured: Manchester Airport this morning
On Monday evening, passengers flying on BA from the United States were faced with hours of delays following technical difficulties.
‘Our flights due to depart the USA tonight are currently delayed due to a technical issue with our third-party flight planning supplier, which we are urgently investigating,’ the airline said in a statement.
An airline spokesperson said the issue does not affect flights that have departed already and is not a safety issue.