UK rail strike
Banners and flags featuring the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) union logo on a picket line during a strike, at London King's Cross railway station in London, UK, on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Image Credit: Bloomberg

London: Britain is heading into a second consecutive summer of train strikes this week as union bosses and ministers remain at loggerheads over pay and working conditions.

The rail network came to a standstill on Wednesday as Aslef, the main labour group for train drivers, held its latest walkout. It has also banned overtime for Thursday, threatening more disruption, while the RMT, another union, goes on strike on Friday.

Train drivers from Aslef will then walk out again on Saturday, even as tens of thousands of Manchester United and Manchester City football fans travel to Wembley in northwest London for the FA Cup final. The same afternoon, the Epsom Derby horse race will take place just south of London, with more than 100,000 people expected to attend.

“I haven’t seen anyone from the government since Jan. 6,” said Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, in an interview with Sky News. “They’re not interested, they don’t care and they don’t want a resolution.”

An official who asked not to be identified said ministers have worked hard to resolve disputes, citing the end of strikes against Network Rail, which runs Britain’s tracks. This week’s walkouts are against train companies. The government argues that unions have prevented workers from voting on a “fair and reasonable” pay offer.

Train strikes escalated last June when the RMT staged the first of a series of protests running over consecutive days. As inflation soared in light of the war in Ukraine, workers in other industries also began to walk out, resulting in the UK economy losing more than 3.5 million days to strikes.