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The UK train drivers’ union is preparing to intensify its campaign of strike action this autumn as hopes fade of reaching a deal to end more than a year of industrial action.
Mick Whelan, head of Aslef, said further strikes were inevitable in a long-running row over pay and working conditions with train companies in England and the government.
The union’s executive committee will meet on Friday to discuss its next steps and Whelan said he was under pressure from members to go “harder and faster”.
“It is going to happen, it is about how quickly we step it up and what we do. But the view is we will be taking more action,” Whelan said.
Aslef has 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 union has not held talks with train companies since April, or the government, which controls the industry’s finances, since January.
Separate talks between the rail industry and RMT union — which rejected a 9 per cent two-year pay deal earlier this year — have also stalled, leaving passengers facing the prospect of strikes dragging on throughout the rest of the year.
Train drivers have virtually closed the rail network through one-day strikes 11 times over the past year and also caused significant disruption through five weeks of bans on drivers clocking on for overtime.
“The longer it goes on without any contact from the government or any of the employers to resolve the situation, we may have to go harder and faster to make our voice heard,” Whelan said.
Aslef is demanding a significantly higher pay deal, particularly as its members have not had a pay rise since 2019.
Whelan added that the union could consider a permanent ban on overtime work, which would cause sweeping disruption as many train companies rely on drivers working extra hours.
Ministers and train companies have long said the industry cannot afford higher pay rises and must impose changes to working practices following a decline in revenue amid a shift to homeworking which was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Passenger numbers have steadily increased over the past year but journeys by commuters on peak hour trains have been the slowest to return.
Total passenger revenue in the first quarter of the year, the most recent for which data is available, was £2.2bn, down more than a third from the £3.2 billion in the same quarter four years ago, according to the Office of Rail and Road, an industry regulator.
The Department for Transport said the government had facilitated “fair and reasonable pay offers”. “Union leaders should stop blocking their members from having a vote on these offers and give them the chance to help resolve this dispute,” it added.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said more strikes would be “unnecessary”, and also called on Aslef to instead put its “fair and reasonable” pay offer to members.
“We urge the Aslef leadership to acknowledge the substantial financial challenges facing the rail industry and collaborate with us to achieve a more dependable and robust railway system for the future,” it said.