Transport Committee seeks more detail on minimum service level plans

Monday, Dec 04, 2023

LONDON: MPs have called for more details from the Government over its controversial plans to ensure a minimum level of service during rail strikes.

New regulations will force unions to agree to make sure a certain number of trains run during industrial action.Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef are taking strike action this week in a long-running dispute over pay but the regulations are not yet being implemented.

Parts of the country had no trains over the weekend and there will be more disruption for the rest of the week.The Transport Select Committee has been holding inquiries into how the new regulations will apply during rail strikes.

Members of the committee urged the Government not to overlook risks when it introduces the regulations and be ready to learn lessons where necessary. They have laid out three criteria by which the Department for Transport (DfT) should judge whether the introduction of minimum service levels (MSLs) has been successful: whether imposing them inadvertently leads to “novel” forms of protest, if industrial disputes are prolonged, and whether they lead to better working relationships between rail unions, the industry and Government.

The committee said ministers issued a one-sentence response: “The Government welcomes these suggested criteria and will carefully monitor the impact of MSLs.”Transport Committee chairman Iain Stewart said: “The Government has signalled itsintention to implement MSLs as soon as possible. Given it has an unresolved dispute with the train drivers’ union Aslef, we could see these regulations in action very soon.

“My committee felt that the Government’s plans could have included more detail, as throughout our inquiry voices from the sector were calling out for guidance from DfT on how to prepare for this new way of working.

“We were disappointed by the Government’s half-hearted response to our recommendation on how it will judge the success or otherwise of MSLs.“There is a risk of MSLs worsening worker-employer relations and that, as a result, MSLs could end up making services less reliable.

“We will watch with interest how the department intends to assess the success of MSLs as the regulations come into force.“I urge the Government to keep a close eye over how this develops and learn lessons where necessary. After all, major changes to timetabling on the rail network haven’t always gone seamlessly in the past.”