Train drivers in 13 British train operators went on strike on Wednesday, causing service cancellations across the country.
The industrial action, organised by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), is the latest in a series of strikes in the rail sector amid bitter disputes between trade unions and the government and companies over pay, job cuts, and changes to terms and conditions.
The disruption will affect football fixtures and the final day of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said that train drivers in England are facing a third year without a pay rise, while deals have been achieved in Scotland and Wales.
He called on the government to “lift the shackles” from train companies which he claimed are preventing them from making a pay offer.
“The message I am receiving from my members is that they are in this for the long haul and, if anything, they want industrial action to be increased,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) walked out at the CrossCountry train company and are taking other forms of industrial action at several other operators.
Further strikes have been planned. ASLEF members working on the Croydon Tramlink have rejected a pay offer and will strike on Oct. 10 and 11.
The TSSA will hold strikes on Oct. 6, Oct. 7, and Oct. 8 while members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union at more than a dozen train companies and Network Rail will strike on Oct. 8.
The government called the latest industrial actions “incredibly disappointing.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said, “Our railway is in desperate need of modernisation but all more strikes will do is punish the very people unions claim to stand up for and push passengers further away.”
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who has adopted a more conciliatory stance towards the unions than her predecessor Grant Shapps, said on Oct. 4 that there is a “deal to be done” between unions and train operators but stressed any agreement “will require compromise.”
Attending the party conference in Birmingham, Trevelyan said to Conservative members, the “very last thing that the country needs right now is more damaging industrial disputes.”
“My message to the trade union membership is simple: please take your seats at the negotiating table and let’s find a landing zone which we can all work with. Punishing passengers and inflicting damage on our economy by striking is not the answer,” she said.
PA Media contributed to this report.