First Capital Connect strike - further train cancellations expected

PUBLISHED: 17:36 11 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:39 06 May 2010

FIRST Capital Connect train drivers are being balloted on strike action following nearly two weeks of driver shortages which has led to chaos for commuters. Some drivers have opted not to work overtime or on rest days over a pay dispute which has led to a

FIRST Capital Connect train drivers are being balloted on strike action following nearly two weeks of driver shortages which has led to chaos for commuters.

Some drivers have opted not to work overtime or on rest days over a pay dispute which has led to a huge number of cancellations on the Thameslink line.

Train drivers' union ASLEF's spokesman Mick Whelan said yesterday that FCC had offered a revised two-year deal, with a pay freeze this year and a minimum three per cent pay rise next year.

In addition FCC was offering a £200 lump sum to be paid on 4 April 2010 to all employees covered by collective bargaining.

In the wake of the offer, Mr Whelan is recommending industrial action to the union's executive committee.

The past few weeks have seen the numbers of train cancellations and reduced services soar with up to 60 trains a day being cancelled. Yesterday 50 trains were cancelled.

In a statement on their website FCC said today: "We are extremely sorry that a shortage of train drivers has forced us to cancel a large number of services on the Thameslink route.

"Unfortunately it is probable that up to 50 per cent of the trains scheduled to run on the Thameslink route on Thursday and Friday will be cancelled due to a shortage of available drivers. We are in ongoing pay talks with the drivers' union, ASLEF.

What we're doing to try and ease the situation."

On both days Thameslink route Season Tickets will be valid for the equivalent journey on First Capital Connect's Great Northern route. (Please note that tickets will not be valid on National Express East Coast trains between Stevenage and London King's Cross).

In addition car park permits valid at stations on the Thameslink route may be used in the following car parks operated by First Capital Connect on the Great Northern route providing they are clearly displayed on the windscreen: Huntingdon, St Neots, Biggleswade, Welwyn North, Hatfield (limited space), Welham Green, Brookmans Park, Potters Bar (limited space).

Valid First Capital Connect tickets will be accepted on London Underground and London Buses on all reasonable routes.

Rail users are also angry at being fobbed off with excuses about "driver shortages" when the situation have been caused by a pay dispute resulting in an overtime ban.

Problems started when an intensive programme of training began in March to familiarise drivers with new trains coming on stream.

Rather than employ more drivers, FCC relied on its staff to cover with the drivers filling in by working on their rest days and offering to do overtime.

But since the workforce found out a fortnight ago that they were not going to get pay rises, some have refused to work.

Mr Whelan said: "FCC has made more than £56 million this year and managers and shareholders have seen the benefit but our drivers are not being offered anything this year despite all their hard work."

Passengers are really feeling the strain now. Lawyer Julia Garvin, 35, of Barnfield Road, Harpenden, said: ": "I often travel home at 8pm and last night again - due to cancelled services - we were crammed on to a train full to the rafters. I am quite short and can't find anything to hang on to so it feels unsafe as well as very unpleasant being so close to other people's bodies. It was 50 minutes of hell. Everyone is exhausted and desperate to get home.

"People are pushing and fighting their way on to stuffy, overheated trains. And then the final insult is that FCC don't even tell you why you have to suffer like this and what they are doing about it. It's just pure arrogance."

St Albans Lib-Dem prospective parliamentary candidate Sandy Walkington described the situation as "quite intolerable" treating commuters in such a cavalier way when they had paid so much for a proper rail service. He called on FCC and their drivers to settle their differences quickly.

A spokesperson for FCC said they thought their offer was fair and reasonable and reflected the current economic climate of a prolonged and continuing recession.

He also pointed out that drivers currently earn £38,000 for a four day week of 35 hours with overtime frequently bringing it up to nearer £50,000.

FCC this week announced that its Interim Managing Director Jim Morgan is leaving on Friday. Group rail manager Mary Grant will stand in until a permanent managing director can be found.


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