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Britain’s train drivers’ union has called a second set of walkouts on the East Coast mainline after bosses tried to use anti-strike laws to keep trains running during looming industrial action.
The Aslef union on Thursday unveiled plans for five days of industrial action between Monday, February 5, and Friday, February 9, on LNER, one of the UK’s busiest rail companies, which operates services linking London to Edinburgh.
LNER drivers were already set to walk out on February 2, as part of a broader action across several train operators in a long-running dispute over pay.
The strikes would be the first time operators could enforce new minimum service level legislation to ensure that enough trains run on strike days.
The announcement of the second and more damaging set of strikes on LNER came after its management called on Aslef to enter a consultation on requiring some drivers to work during the February 2 strike, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
LNER is the only train company in England to have so far indicated it would seek to use the new powers, which allow employers to require some staff to cross picket lines to ensure that up to 40 per cent of services can run, the person said.
One senior government figure said that ministers hoped operators would use the laws to improve services for passengers during the strikes.
“We would very much hope that they would use those powers,” they said. “We aren’t going to grandstand and publicly urge them to do it but we quietly expect them to do so.”
Another government figure said that while decisions to use minimum service levels are for individual employers, “we expect employers to be ready to use this new tool if appropriate to do so, and to deliver the best possible service”.
An LNER spokesperson said: “Instead of staging more damaging industrial action, we urge the Aslef leadership to work with industry negotiators to resolve the dispute.”
Ministers hope the legislation will allow for a more reliable and frequent service on strike days, boosting the economy and diminishing the unions’ negotiating powers.
But unions have said the law has inflamed tensions, and warned that safety could be at risk if passengers are encouraged to travel as normal on a partially manned railway.
Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said ministers and train bosses should negotiate rather than “stoke tensions” with the industry.
“Instead of sitting down with unions for talks, ministers have pushed through draconian legislation to make it harder for working people to win better pay and conditions.”
Some senior industry executives are also privately lukewarm about the wisdom of the legislation.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the industry, last week said companies were working through plans to manage the upcoming disruption, but added that minimum service levels “are not a silver bullet”.
Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, has announced a freeze in public transport fares in the capital at the cost of £123mn.
Khan, who is battling for re-election in May, said the move would save travellers up to £90 a year, compared to a 4.9 per cent rise in national rail fares.
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