Bitter row over rail strikes as union leader says ‘Grant Shapps is a liar’

Bitter row over rail strikes as union leader says ‘Grant Shapps is a liar’

(PA)

(PA)

A bitter row has erupted in the rail dispute after the drivers’ union leader branded the transport minister a liar.

Grant Shapps tweeted that passengers using Avanti West Coast services could expect disruption on Sunday due to unofficial strikes.

But Aslef hit back, saying there was no action on Sunday and accusing the minister of lying.

His tendency to lie is just one reason why he failed to garner enough support to run for Tory party leader elections. That and the fact that he’s not very good at his job

Mick Whelan

Mr Shapps tweeted: “UNOFFICIAL STRIKES: Passengers using Avanti West services should expect disruption today. Archaic rules from 1919 mean that work on rest days is voluntary. Unions are now stopping drivers from volunteering – causing misery for the public and for employees who are not being paid. We MUST modernize rail.”

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Grant Shapps is a liar. Not only is he wrong, he knows he is wrong.

“His tendency to lie is just one reason why he failed to garner enough support to run for Tory party leader election. That and the fact that he’s not very good at his job.

“The truth is that the company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it promises to passengers. The company and the minister should stop lying and start recruiting.”

Aslef members at Avanti are set to strike on August 13 amid the long-running dispute over wages and working conditions, but the union said no action will take place until then.

Avanti West Coast said unofficial actions by drivers mean it faces “several last-minute cancellations” across its network from Monday.

The company said in a statement the cancellations are expected to continue until the current industrial dispute is resolved.

“Customers are urged to check their journey on our website before arriving at the station and should be prepared for services to be disrupted at short notice and very busy.

“We apologize for the tremendous frustration and inconvenience this will cause our customers and condemn the behavior of the drivers.

“We urge them to engage in meaningful conversations about modernizing labor practices and developing a railroad fit for the 21st century.”

A union spokesman said the company was not employing enough drivers to provide its services.

Aslef members at seven rail companies went on strike on Saturday, causing major disruption to services.

More strikes are planned in August by Aslef, the Rail, Shipping and Transport Union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association as disputes over wages, jobs and working conditions intensify.

An Avanti spokesman added: “We have a longstanding agreement with drivers that they will work overtime.

“The drivers like it because they earn extra money. Typically around 250 trains per week are covered by this agreement, with a pool of highly reliable drivers who sign up regularly with no problems.

“Literally overnight the number for this week has dropped to less than 10 overtime trains. The drivers have resigned their volunteer positions en masse.”

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