East Midlands Trains drivers have voted to strike during the Olympic Games in a dispute over pensions. The three days of walkouts threaten to disrupt travel for spectators visiting the British capital for the event. Due to this, the government has accused the train divers of ‘self-interest’.
The drivers in question are members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef). The strike has been scheduled for August 6 to 8, when several athletics finals will be held at the Olympic Stadium. This follows the drivers staging six strikes in May in a row over their pensions, while two more walkouts were called off last month to allow for more negotiations.
Aslef is disputing plans to reduce pension contributions, which has been accepted by other union members who work for East Midlands Trains. In a pensions review, the company said that it was found that extra payments made in recent years weren’t needed anymore, so employee contributions can be reduced from 10.5% to 9.08% of pay and £700,000 less per year would be paid by the company. The train operator says current pay levels were unnecessary and mean staff pay hundreds more pounds for no more benefits. It argues the union is trying force more expensive contributions than needed, which risks making the scheme unaffordable, resulting in people dropping out.
About 400 drivers work at East Midlands Trains, which will go ahead with planned talks with the union to avert the new walkouts. Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan says it’s very irresponsible to reduce pension contributions in this economic climate. It’s believed that the fund’s assets have significantly decreased since a valuation was last conducted. On top of this, any suggestion that drivers will save money ignores the fact the pension scheme is split 60/40 between the company and staff. This means, while the workers are saving £500, the company is saving £750 – or £1,250 per active member per year.
Whelan added that this is just storing trouble for the next valuation and the scheme’s future. It’s deceitful to suggest workers are getting something for nothing. Stagecoach may have no responsibility for the pension fund in a few years, but their members face the prospect of either reduced benefits or high contribution rates due to a short-term cost-cutting move made by East Midlands Trains that leaves the scheme in deficit.
East Midlands Trains, which is owned by bus and rail transport group Stagecoach, says the public will be dismayed and angry that walkouts are being planned during a time of ‘great national pride’ for the UK. Managing director David Horne says this is another example of the union playing games and is a real inconvenience for customers and the country. The fact is, there is only one point of clarification still being negotiated with Aslef – the pension offer they put forward last month. They were in talks with the union to deal with this matter when they heard the news that more strike dates had been announced.
Horne continued that they are especially shocked that Aslef has announced the walkout dates, instead of putting the principally accepted pension offer up for consideration by their members. They hope the union will see sense and cancel the unnecessary strike. However, if the scheduled strike dates go ahead, they will pull out all the stops to ensure people will still be able to travel by train and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience, he added.
The industrial action has also been criticised by Transport Secretary Justine Greening, who says if ‘self-interest’ was an Olympic sport, Aslef would win without any trouble. This strike threatens the ability of Team GB to plan travel from their Loughborough base and means disruption for thousands of commuters’ and spectators’ journeys. Opposition Leader Ed Miliband needs to get control of his union paymasters so this damaging and unnecessary walkout is called off, she added.
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