Leaders of three rail unions have spoken out about their concerns over the future of Eurostar – launching a petition calling for government support.
At an online public meeting on Wednesday, the General Secretaries of Aslef, RMT and TSSA each reaffirmed their commitment to preserving Britain's vital green link to continental Europe. They were backed by Eurostar staff, Friends of the Earth and think tank IPPR.
In May, Eurostar reached a deal with its backers having come under great financial pressure due to the pandemic. The cross-Channel operator has been running just a handful of services a day with staff among the first in the country to go on furlough.
However, the situation at Eurostar remains uncertain in the long term, with the UK government reluctant to support the service and the 70 per cent of Eurostar staff based in the UK. The Eurostar international rail service is the UK’s greenest form of travel to Europe, at its peak taking 60,000 short haul planes out of the sky.
Speaking at the meeting:
Mick Whelan, General Secretary, Aslef said:
"The first battle is to protect the jobs, to protect the future of Eurostar, to make the green case, to make the financial case and to make the long-term case for why it’s the right thing to do. Then it’s to make the case for how it fits into our connectivity to the rest of the world. How other countries are looking into doing their longer train journeys, so we introduce sleeper journeys rather than flights and tax those flights."
Mick Lynch, General Secretary, RMT said:
"I worked for Eurostar for 22 years as an electrician engineer looking after the trains at the depot. I’ve got a lot of friends there and we’ve got a lot of members working on the Eurostar service. I want to see it survive. I want my members to have a job – these are good jobs by the way. All three unions can be proud of the job they’ve done negotiating a good set of terms and conditions. We want to save good jobs as part of the green transport economy."
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary TSSA said:
"The idea that the government cannot step in to save Eurostar is absolute rubbish. Sign that petition, share it on social media, talk to your friends and family so that you get the message out there loud and clear that you stand shoulder to shoulder with Eurostar workers, but you’re also standing shoulder to shoulder with the future of the planet so our children can inherit something better."
Also speaking was TSSA Eurostar staff rep Sonja Van Wingerden, who gave an upbeat message, saying:
"Our crew is ready to go, the company is raring to go. We want to run these trains. Come September, the furlough system totally ends. There is no financial backing at this point in time that we are aware of, although the man in Number 10 is the king of U-turns."
Bringing home the climate message was Jenny Bates, Transport Campaigner, Friends of the Earth.
"The carbon costs of rail versus air are really clear," she said. "There’s so much less carbon for rail than air and yet the costs are reversed round the wrong way. Yet the aviation industry is subsidised with no tax paid on aviation fuel, there’s no VAT on airline tickets – this is a subsidy effectively worth billions of pounds a year. And air passenger duty, which is the only thing which is paid, has gone down in real terms. It just isn’t even comparable with what’s happening on rail."
The final speaker was Becca Massey-Chase, from think tank IPPR, who said:
"All three of the rail unions have united together under the same banner to call for Shapps, the Transport Secretary to take charge of this situation and give our Eurostar workers some reassurance that their jobs and their skills are valued."