Tue, 03 Oct 2023

LONDON, England: Demanding higher pay, some 5,000 train engineers across almost one-quarter of Britain's rail network went on a 24-hour strike this week.

The strike was organized by train drivers' union ASLEF. This was the second significant industrial action this week on Britain's rail network, after 40,000 members of the RMT and TSSA unions - which represent other rail workers - earlier held a major strike.

Soaring inflation is currently 9.4 percent - and irregular wage increases have aggravated labor tensions nationwide.

The strike was expected to lead to "significant disruptions" throughout the weekend, according to Network Rail, which operates Britain's rail infrastructure.

Almost all services on seven of the country's 34 train operators were canceled, including regional networks for southeast and eastern England, as well as long-distance lines linking London with southwest England, northeast England and Edinburgh.

Foreign state-owned rail companies operate Britain's train services on a for-profit basis through short-term contracts and operating subsidies from the government. Those subsidies swelled as passengers stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said the franchise agreements typically only provided for 2 percent pay raises for drivers.

"At this time of the cost of living crisis, we believe this Catch-22 situation can't go on," Whelan told BBC radio.

Meanwhile, Steve Montgomery, managing director of rail operator First Rail and chair of the industry-wide Rail Delivery Group, said operators would offer larger pay raises only if train drivers agreed to changes in working practices that would save money.

"We're not saying to people work longer hours, but to be more productive within the hours they currently have," he said, according to the BBC.

ASLEF plans to hold another one-day strike on August 13.

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