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Rail passengers face more disruption as train drivers strike


R

ail passengers face a third consecutive day of travel disruption on Thursday because of a strike by train drivers.

Services will be crippled by the walkout by members of Aslef at 15 rail companies in a long-running dispute over pay, with some areas having no trains all day.

The action follows a 48-hour strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) which led to widespread disruption across the country on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The latest wave of industrial action comes as reports suggest the Prime Minister could announce legislation to enforce minimum service levels during strikes as soon as Thursday.

The Times newspaper reported that Rishi Sunak is considering measures which could allow employers to sue trade unions and sack workers.

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The new law would reportedly apply to six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire, border security and nuclear.

However, a significant pay rise for public sector workers is also reportedly under consideration as a means of ending the strikes, according to the paper.

The RMT is staging another 48-hour strike from Friday in its bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan told the PA news agency it was “inevitable” that further strikes will be held unless the deadlock is broken.

He warned that strikes could escalate, saying train drivers wanted to go “harder and faster” after years of not receiving a pay rise.

Mr Whelan told PA he felt rail employers and the Government were “playing games” rather than making any serious attempt to resolve the pay dispute.

“The situation is getting worse and my members now want to go harder and faster because of the lack of progress.

“We are in a weird world where the Government will do anything to keep private companies in the industry.

“It is inevitable that more strikes will be held and probably escalate.

“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.”

Among the operators which will run no trains all day on Thursday are Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Northern, Southern, Southeastern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express.

Rail links to the UK’s two busiest airports will be cut, with Gatwick Express and Heathrow Express shutting down.

Areas where trains will run on Thursday include: Wales; the Central Belt, Fife and the Borders of Scotland; and parts of the South Western Railway network.

Services will also operate on London Overground and the Elizabeth line.

Only around 20% of normal services will run, according to the Rail Delivery Group.

The Prime Minister was asked on Wednesday about the wave of strikes sweeping across the country, replying that his Government’s door was always open for dialogue.

He said: “We’re very keen on dialogue. The Government’s door is always open.”

“You’ll hear more from the Government in the coming days about our approach,” Mr Sunak said, adding: “My view is people should always behave reasonably and fairly and make sure that what we’re doing is centred around what is responsible for the country, what’s affordable for the country.

“I think that’s the right dialogue to be having, and I hope we can have that dialogue.”

He said “people should have the right to strike”, adding “that has to be balanced with the right of the British public to go about their lives without suffering completely undue disruption in the way we’ve seen recently”.

Mr Sunak added: “And that’s why I have said we will introduce new legislation that restores that balance and crucially protects people’s lives as well as their livelihoods.”

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.

New TUC leader Paul Nowak has written to the Prime Minister calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the industrial disputes including those on the railways, in the NHS and the civil service and called for a change in Government direction, saying ministers should open pay negotiations with unions.

In the letter, Mr Nowak said public services were in crisis after years of “underfunding and understaffing”.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has warned that industrial action will need to continue beyond May unless a reasonable offer is made to the union.

Talks are due to be held next week in another attempt to find a settlement.

On Wednesday, the DVSA driving examiners’ strike started in London, the South East, South Wales and the South West, while traffic officer service workers at National Highways and Rural Payments Agency staff continued their walkouts.

London bus workers at Abellio began a two-day strike on Wednesday, the first in a series of action planned by the group throughout January.

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