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Rail walkouts intended to disrupt Tory conference, union officials confirm

The Aslef rail union has admitted its latest strike is deliberately timed with the intent of disrupting the Conservative Party conference.

The Aslef union’s members walked out on Saturday across 16 train operators and will strike again on Wednesday, disrupting both the start and end of the annual autumn Tory conference in Manchester.

Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, confirmed that the union was timing the strikes to target the Conservative conference in response to accusations that it had deliberately disrupted other events, such as the Eurovision Song Contest in May.

He said: “We are targeting the Tory conference but it’s not politically motivated – we’re running a ‘Where’s Mark?’ theme along the lines of Where’s Wally, because we haven’t seen him since December of last year.

“We haven’t seen a rail minister in January, nobody’s spoken to us since we rejected a deal in April. We’ve been falsely accused in the last 14 months of targeting events, it’s the first one we have targeted.”

Mr Whelan said that talks had come to a standstill after the union rejected an offer worth 8 per cent over two years with strings attached earlier this year.

He claimed past talks were “set up to fail” and said the stance of the Department for Transport was “quite frightening”.
“We haven’t had a pay rise in five years. I think it’s quite dishonourable the way in which they operate,” he added. “This is a political dispute generated by the Westminster government.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper meanwhile suggested the union was doing the bidding of Labour.

“The strike this weekend, people can see that it is timed to coincide with the Conservative Party conference, so it is very much a political strike called by the general secretary of Aslef, who sits on the Labour Party’s national executive committee,” the minister told Sky News.

The Conservative cabinet minister said he had put a “fair and reasonable” pay offer, along with “essential” rail reforms, to Aslef during pay negotiations.

He added: “An average salary of a train driver today is £60,000 for a 35-hour, four-day week. The pay offer that is on the table, if it was accepted, would take that to a £65,000 a year salary for a four-day, 35-hour week – I think most people would think that is quite reasonable.

“My message is to the union: put the offer to your members and see whether they accept it or not. And stop disrupting the general public and actually putting people off using trains, which is not in the long-term interests of the rail industry or their members.”

The Rail Delivery Group has said that they are open to further negotiations with drivers but said its terms and conditions from its last offer in January still stand.

The RMT union will be on strike in a separate dispute on Wednesday and Friday, closing the London Underground.

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