'Tragic Thursday' on the rails: Just one in five trains run with none at all in parts of the UK after drivers walkout

5 January 2023, 07:10 | Updated: 5 January 2023, 12:08

Members of the Aslef union are going on strike
Members of the Aslef union are going on strike. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

British commuters have been hit by the third straight day of railway strikes on Thursday, as train drivers walked out in a dispute over pay.

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The drivers, who are members of the Aslef union, are striking in between two 48-hour walkouts by RMT members on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday.

Some parts of the UK are set to have no train services all day during the strike, while around one in five trains will run overall.

It comes as the government prepares an anti-strike law that would mean unions have to tell some of their members to go to work even during industrial action, to meet minimum service levels - a move union bosses have vowed to fight.

Railway workers have been striking for months over pay and conditions disputes, with much of December disrupted by walkouts.

Rail workers strike over pay, job security and working conditions in UK
Rail workers strike over pay, job security and working conditions in UK. Picture: Getty

And Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said 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.

Mick Whelan, Aslef secretary general, on a picket line in October
Mick Whelan, Aslef secretary general, on a picket line in October. Picture: Getty

"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."

Railway workers have been striking for much of the past month
Railway workers have been striking for much of the past month. Picture: Getty

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.

The Overground and the Elizabeth Line will still run.

Watch Again: RMT Leader Mick Lynch answers your questions

The planned anti-strike law, expected to be tabled next week when MPs return to parliament, would mean unions and employers would have to agree which striking employees would have to go to work to fulfil minimum service levels.

If they were unable to agree, the union and even employees themselves could get in legal trouble.

Speaking during an LBC phone-in on Wednesday, RMT union boss Mick Lynch compared the proposed new law to oppressive regimes like China and communist Poland, accusing ministers of plans to "conscript" workers to cross picket lines.

Read more: RMT chief Mick Lynch compares government to 'repressive regimes like China' in LBC phone-in

Read more: James O’Brien presses Mick Lynch on his Brexit support potentially lowering workers’ rights

"Basically you’re talking about the conscription of labour even during a lawful dispute, and I would have to name my members that went to work to break their own picket lines.

"And that’s unacceptable in a free society.

"We’re always being told that repressive regimes do things against the public. And of course the mark of what went on in Poland, and what goes on in China, and probably Russia and other repressive regimes, is that the trade unions aren’t free."

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