May 12, 2023 2.00 pm This story is over 10 months old

Union hits out at being blamed for TransPennine Express failures

Grimsby MP blamed it for disruption

By Local Democracy Reporter

A train drivers’ union has rubbished claims from the Grimsby MP that strike action is behind TransPenine Express’ poor performance.

TransPennine Express, which operates routes through northern Lincolnshire, including Cleethorpes, Grimsby and Scunthorpe, will be placed under government control.

Great Grimsby MP Lia Nici claimed that union ASLEF had been advising members to cause disruption to the services.

The union says that “the company’s inept management” is to blame instead.

It comes after a series of struggles and failures within the service, which saw one in four trains cancelled in January and February this year.

Northern Lincolnshire MPs have also been quick to cite strike action from ASLEF, the union representing 96% of the country’s train drivers, as a large factor behind the demise of TransPennine Express.

ASLEF (the union representing 96% of the country’s train drivers) are currently on strike at 16 different rail operators across the country over pay terms and working conditions.

Great Grimsby MP Lia Nici (Conservative).

Great Grimsby MP Lia Nici was forthright in her criticism of ASLEF.

She said: “I am pleased that the government has listened to our lobbying and recognised that the unacceptable situation with TransPennine Express’ train services out of Grimsby could not continue.

“Under government control I hope that the situation can now be resolved.

“The reality is that the train drivers’ union ASLEF have not only been striking, but were advising TPE drivers to work to rule, deciding to break the Test Day Working Agreement (RDW).

“ASLEF have been advising their members to cause this disruption to obtain higher pay and to reject modernisation. Train drivers have a current contract to work 35 hours per week for just under £60k per annum.

“Additional ‘rest day work’ rates of 1.75 hourly rates had been offered, but refused by the unions.

“This has not only stopped train services running, but also meant that new train drivers have not been able to be signed off on the Grimsby route, causing further disruption.

“This is not the case for other local services out of Grimsby, such as East Midlands Railway, showing that effective train companies can offer a good service.

“I hope now that the unions will come to the table as promised and work with the government to get our services running properly again.”

Martin Vickers called the service on the Cleethorpes to Manchester route “appalling” for the last 18 months, saying he “recognises” union disputes as a factor, but assurances of improvements from the provider proved “equally unreliable.”

ASLEF disputed the criticise from MPs and Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who said that the union’s actions are “preventing TransPennine Express from being able to run a full service.”

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said: “While we are delighted that the Transport Secretary has, at last, done the right thing and cancelled the lucrative contract of this failing rail company, we are disappointed that he is trying to blame ASLEF – rather than the company’s inept management – for its many problems.

“TPE management is famous throughout the railway industry for its confrontational approach. The company’s drivers – our members – will not be intimidated or abused by TPE managers.

“That’s what we have made clear over the years – that’s what we have done – and now the company has paid the price.

“TPE – which is run by FirstGroup, which is also responsible for Avanti West Coast and all its problems on the West Coast main line – has never employed enough drivers to deliver the services it promised to run.

“It has failed to recruit, and retain, the drivers it needs. It has abused staff, tried to take away our terms and conditions, and tried to force through changes rather than negotiate like grown-ups.

“That’s why the company has, frankly, got exactly what it deserves. And what it has been working so hard to achieve. Mark Harper – who is not a stupid man – knows full well that the fault lies not with this trade union, but at the door of the company and its desperately poor managers.”

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