Train strikes: drivers’ union Aslef is balloting for further strike action to last until spring 2023

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The Aslef general secretary said the union is ‘in it for the long haul’ in pursuit of a pay award that reflects the rising cost of living

Train drivers in the Aslef trade union are voting on whether to continue strike action for up to a further six months, NationalWorld can reveal.

Aslef - the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen - is one of three unions currently involved in disputes with a number of train operating companies and Network Rail, which have resulted in widespread strike action in recent months.

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The RMT Union also recently announced that members are voting to continue strike action, with the ballot due to end next month.

Union leaders have been encouraged after the new transport secretary agreed to meet with them last month, although there are no signs of a deal being struck yet.

Workers are ‘in it for the long haul’

While the initial mandate secured by Aslef for industrial action does not run out until January, a union source confirmed that re-balloting has already got underway.

If members vote to continue with industrial action, which is the expected outcome, it will give the union another six-month window in which it can call strike days. The ballot will likely be open for around six weeks, meaning a new mandate could last until May next year if voted through.

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Trade union leaders have increasingly signalled that they will look to coordinate strike action in order to maximise their impact in a bid to get the train companies and Network Rail to improve their offers. This was the case with the largest single day of strike action yet on 1 October, which resulted in the shutdown of almost the entire rail network.

Aslef’s dispute relates to pay deals with 13 companies, and the union has been keen to stress that it is open to accepting deals which reflect the increase in the cost of living. The union has concluded pay deals with 11 other operators this year, mostly on a multi-year basis.

Writing in the union’s in-house magazine recently, general secretary Mick Whelan said that while the union is “in it for the long haul,” and described the strikes as “government-driven and government caused”.

He wrote: “This is a government-driven, and government-caused, strike in collusion with the employers, to try to limit collective bargaining.

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“The morally corrupt train companies signed contracts with the government to say they would not offer more than 2%, knowing we have free collective bargaining, and do not work for the government.”

A union source told NationalWorld that some members have voiced support for ramping up the strike action to an all-out continuous strike, although it is thought that the leadership is not in favour of this tactic.

They said: “We don’t want to destroy the economy, this government is already doing that”.

There has been a ‘change in tone’ in negotiations

Anne-Marie Trevelyan was chosen by Liz Truss to be the new secretary of state for Transport last month, replacing Grant Shapps. Unlike Shapps, Trevelyan has met with union leaders to discuss the ongoing disputes.

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In a meeting with Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan on 14 September, Trevelyan reportedly sought to signal a change in tone from that set by her predecessor, who had been vocally critical of the trade unions and refused to engage in discussions with them.

A TSSA source said there had been a complete change in tone since Trevelyan’s appointment, while RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told the Transport Select Committee last week that there is a “different mindset,” following her appointment.

A union source told NationalWorld that in one of the meetings, Trevelyan said several times over the course of half an hour that she is “not her predecessor,” which was taken as a sign that the new secretary of state will be more open to finding a compromise, although the meeting itself did not involve any substantial discussions.

While the Aslef dispute relates almost entirely to pay, both TSSA and RMT are also fighting against job cuts and proposed changes to working conditions.

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RMT workers are also re-balloting to continue strike action for a further six months, the union confirmed this week, with the ballot set to close on 15 November. RMT members at 15 train companies and Network rail have taken part in eight national strike days since June. Their current mandate for industrial action is due to expire late next month.

It has been reported that Network Rail is preparing to make a revised offer to unions, and the firm’s head negotiator told the Transport Select Committee last week that there has been a “slight change” in the tone of negotiations recently and he is “continually hopeful” that a deal will be reached.

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