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The UK’s train drivers’ union has announced a new set of strikes targeting the Conservative party’s annual conference in October.
Aslef said on Friday that drivers at 16 train companies would walk out on Saturday September 30 and Wednesday October 4, meaning virtually no trains will run as attendees travel to and from the conference in Manchester, which takes place between Sunday and Wednesday.
Transport secretary Mark Harper criticised Aslef’s decision to strike during the time of the conference for the second consecutive year; stoppages disrupted Tory members’ travel to and from Birmingham in 2022.
“Aslef’s cynical strikes on 30 Sept & 4 Oct are politically motivated,” he wrote on social media.
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said the union had been “inspired . . . to take action on these days” by a deterioration in relations with the government and criticism for strikes held during last year’s conference.
For more than a year, Aslef has been locked in a dispute with rail companies and the government over pay and proposed changes to working practices. Ministers handle the railway’s finances, giving them control over the size of potential pay rises, which are negotiated with the union by industry bosses.
In April, the union rejected an offer of an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, tied to sweeping changes to drivers’ working lives, such as more flexible shift rostering and overtime work. The rejected offer would have raised average pay for a driver from £60,000 a year to £65,000, Harper said.
The government and rail companies argue that higher rises are unaffordable and that major reforms are needed to save money, given the pressure on the railway’s finances following a decline in commuting.
Whelan said the April pay offer was “risible” and included a “land grab for all our terms and conditions”.
He said Aslef had had no contact with ministers since January or serious negotiations with train operations since April.
“The Department for Transport says we need to talk to the train companies while the train companies complain they cannot sneeze without the permission of the DfT. We will talk to anyone. But, at the moment, they will not talk to us,” he added.
The Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for train operators, said: “Further strike action by the Aslef leadership will cause more disruption to passengers.
“We want to give our staff a pay increase, but it has always been linked to implementing necessary, sensible reforms that would enhance services for our passengers,” it added.
Alongside the two one-day strikes, Aslef announced a ban on drivers working overtime on September 29, and between October 2 and October 6.
The RMT, Britain’s biggest transport union, remains locked in a separate dispute with the industry and government, and has held a series of strikes since last summer.
The government said it had “facilitated fair and reasonable offers to both RMT and Aslef”, adding: “These strikes will not prevent the need for essential workplace reforms.”
It pointed to industry figures showing that revenue remained £1bn per quarter below 2019 levels, when adjusted for inflation.