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Train drivers’ walkout brings more misery on UK railways

LONDON (AP) – Workers, vacationers and sports fans faced travel disruption in Britain as thousands of train drivers walked off the job yesterday, the latest strike in an increasingly bitter labour dispute on the nation’s railways.

Some 5,000 drivers staged a 24-hour strike against seven train companies across England. It came on the second full day of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the first day of the new English football season.

The drivers’ walkout followed four daylong strikes since June by railway cleaners, signallers, maintenance workers and station staff in a dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions.

Unions are fighting for substantial pay increases to cope with inflation of over nine per cent and the worst cost of living crisis in decades. Train companies are seeking to cut costs and staffing after two pandemic-hit years in which emergency government funding kept them afloat.

Unions accuse the Conservative government of preventing train companies – which are privately owned but heavily regulated – from making a better offer, something the government denies.

Writing in the Times of London, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused “militant union leaders” of resisting necessary reforms and “taking the taxpayer for a ride, but not in the way they were meant to”.

Leader of the train drivers’ ASLEF union Mick Whelan said workers just wanted a “realistic” pay raise.

“For the last three years, we’ve had no pay rises,” he told the BBC. “The people we work for will be making hundred of millions of pounds and giving money to their shareholders.”

Southeastern trains in sidings near Ashford railway station in Kent, England. PHOTO: AP
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