UK Train Drivers Across to Strike in May Over Pay Dispute

May is shaping to be a particularly rough month for English rail passengers, as 16 rail firm drivers go on strike over salary and overtime restrictions.

After a resounding decision in February to maintain industrial action, the train drivers’ union, Aslef, has requested that the train operating firms engage in negotiations. The most recent salary offer was turned down in April 2023; the strike action started in July 2022.

In exchange for drivers agreeing to increased training requirements and work schedule negotiations, the offer—which Aslef deemed “risible”—included 4% salary increases for two consecutive years. Financial difficulties and taxpayer fairness have led train operators to argue that current working conditions require new approaches to pay equity.

The train firms’ official negotiating organization, the Train Delivery Group, is still trying to “seek a fair agreement.” In a strike, unions must provide at least fourteen days’ warning.

A 5% backdated salary increase for 2022–23 and job security guarantees were part of a compensation package that RMT members, including security guards and ticket office employees, decided to accept in November last year. Future salary agreements and working procedures are still up for discussion.

Train companies may legally mandate that 40% of their workforce be present on strike days. According to the Department for Transport, employers are expected to provide the highest possible service and apply minimal service standards “if appropriate.”

In a statement, the Rail Delivery Group—an association of British train operating companies—characterized basic services levels as a “silver bullet” that may be useful, but unions are vehemently opposed to the idea.

The government and rail operators claim that the offer that Aslef turned down would have raised the average salary for train drivers to £65,000, whereas the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the median wage for “train and tram drivers” is just under £59,000.