Some nice train tracks, yesterday

Impact of minimum service levels on striking railway workers investigated by MPs

Image credit: PA Mediapoint

MPs on the Transport Committee have launched an inquiry into how the government’s proposed new rules on minimum service levels will apply to railway workers.

The bill, which is currently working its way through Parliament, would allow the secretary of state to make regulations setting out the minimum service required for rail during industrial action.

Unions and workers would have to comply with these or face losing protections against being sued or dismissed.

The Transport Committee wants stakeholders to submit evidence to help it understand how a minimum service level on the rail network could be defined and the factors that should be taken into account.

This includes whether it would be set with reference to proportion of the timetable, service frequency, network coverage, key routes or other benchmarks.  

The bill has proved highly controversial, attracting strong opinions both for and against. Unions and opposition parties have been particularly vocal in their opposition, expressing concern about the impact it will have on workers’ rights.

The Committee said it did not “seek to take a side” on the principles of the bill, but wanted to examine the practical details.

Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and train drivers’ union Aslef recently took strike action affecting thousands of trains countrywide. Very few trains were running on dates in early February as the network almost ground to a halt.

Committee chair Iain Stewart MP said: “The government’s announcement that it will introduce minimum service levels legislation raises many questions about how it will operate in practice for the rail sector. 

“We will seek to understand what a minimum service might mean for different lines operated by different companies. How many services per day would routes between busy commuter hubs expect to see and would stations in isolated areas get any trains at all? 

“How will rail companies decide which workers are needed and which aren’t, who can strike and who can’t? And what impact will running a reduced service on strike days have on timetabling, given we know that ripples of disruption continue into the morning after a strike if trains are in the wrong places.

“The government has also argued that minimum service requirements are common in other countries, so this Committee will look at what can be learnt from looking abroad.

“These are just a few of the questions the Transport Committee will put to key organisations in the sector as we scrutinise this forthcoming legislation.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles