Train company boss said striking staff need to be 'realistic'

The head of TransPennine Express said strikes are “harming the recovery of the railway” as passengers return after the pandemic and staff need to be “realistic about what’s affordable”.

Managing director Matthew Golton said the company has seen a resurgence of leisure travel, which now accounts for more than 80 per cent of its business, but weekend strikes staged by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union members are causing significant disruption.

Conductors refused to work the last four Sundays, as part of an ongoing row about pay, and they are planning another 10 days of industrial action over the next four months.

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Mr Golton told a Transport for the North meeting today that conductors received an “above inflation” pay rise offer in January 2020, but it was rejected by the RMT.

TransPennine Express have refused to work the last four Sundays, as part of an ongoing row about payTransPennine Express have refused to work the last four Sundays, as part of an ongoing row about pay
TransPennine Express have refused to work the last four Sundays, as part of an ongoing row about pay

“We all know that since then, we’ve seen the pandemic, the collapse of passenger numbers and a real change in the railway finances,” he said.

“The clock can’t be reset back to 2020. We’ve had a lot of taxpayer support for the industry, which we all know is not sustainable at current levels.

“Everybody in the industry needs to understand and be realistic about what’s affordable.

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“There’s no question that the strike is harming the recovery of the railway and our numbers. We remain available to meet with the RMT, but the talks need to be realistic.”

He said passenger numbers have returned to around 66 per cent of pre-Covid levels, as there has been a strong recovery in leisure travel but fewer commuters have returned to the railways.

He also said the company altered its timetable in January, because there were high numbers of staff off with Covid-19 and train drivers represented by trade union ASLEF decided to stop working on rest days.

Northern was forced to make similar timetable changes after drivers withdrew rest-day labour in January, due to a dispute with ASLEF about Covid procedures.

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Yesterday, RMT members handed out leaflets to commuters at stations in Leeds, London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester warning that rail companies and the Government are intent on cutting thousands of frontline staff.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Despite rail fares going up again the Government and rail companies are planning to slash rail services and thousands of frontline jobs at stations, on trains and on safety-critical infrastructure.

“That means our railways will be less secure, less safe and less accessible, with more expensive rail fares. Passengers will literally be paying more for less.”

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents a range of rail companies, said the pandemic brought “an unprecedented financial shock” and the industry “needs to respond to the challenges we face with the acceleration of changing travel patterns”.

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The Transport Salaried Staffs Association has also claimed that Network Rail is planning to cut more than 2,600 maintenance and works delivery jobs.

Unions believe Network Rail is looking to make savings of £100m a year and it has set ambitious targets to reduce its wage bill.

The Government-owned company said it “needs to make a permanent reduction” to its operation costs and trade unions are being consulted.

A spokesman added: “No firm proposals have been tabled yet and we are meeting with the unions on Thursday to continue talks.”