Avanti drivers get 380% raise to work 'rest days,' creating chance for 6-figure payday

U.K. intercity train operator Avanti West Coast has struck a deal with its drivers that will help them almost quadruple the amount they take home for working on a “rest day” after pressure from the government.

Avanti West Coast, which operates between London, Manchester, and Glasgow has passed an agreement with drivers that will see them earn £600 for an overtime shift, a hefty 380% increase on the £125 they currently command, The Sunday Times of London first reported.

The BBC subsequently reported that Aslef, the union representing Avanti’s drivers, had immediately accepted the improved terms. It will take effect on March 29 and be set for 12 months.

Avanti hopes the deal will safeguard it against delays that have plagued the trainline, and do something to boost staff morale levels that have sat in the gutter for years.

“We are pleased to reach a new agreement on rest day working, as other operators have done,” a representative for Avanti told Fortune

“It will help ensure our services are more reliable and resilient over time for our customers, while ensuring we continue training our drivers on our brand-new trains. We’re grateful to partners at Aslef and the DFT for working with us to finalise this agreement.”

But the agreement might strike a sour note among taxpayers, who have gotten used to an unreliable Avanti service marred by delays. 

Incentives to break out of rest day

Avanti drivers earn about £67,000 ($84,500) for their standard working week. According to calculations first made by The Times, the improved terms for train operators mean they now have a six-figure salary within their grasp, so long as they significantly step up their hours. 

That figure is speculative and wasn’t confirmed to Fortune, The Times, or the BBC by either Avanti or Aslef. 

However, if a driver worked on one rest day for each week of the year, they would receive more than £31,000 ($39,100) in overtime pay, landing them close to the six-figure landmark. It’s unlikely, though, that many drivers will take the requisite amount of overtime to hit that figure.

In a statement to Fortune, Aslef Secretary-General Mick Whelan said Avanti didn’t employ enough train drivers to deliver the services it had offered to the government, the taxpayer, and passengers.

“The company has offered its drivers £600 to work their rest days. We were happy to accept the offer the company made,” said Whelan.

The pay bump may be regarded as the first step in a long battle to improve the spirits of staff who have had their morale battered by poor Avanti service.

An internal survey of Avanti staff found that only 3% of drivers at the operator felt valued, The Guardian reported in December.

A report by The i newspaper found that some train drivers were so jaded by the company that they were refusing to wear Avanti uniform while on shift.   

“Staff morale has been rock bottom for over 2 years. Most staff are awaiting the day they lose the franchise so they can celebrate,” a staff member told the RMT union in December 2022.

Avanti troubles

Avanti has faced sustained pressure from the U.K. government to improve its services or lose its contract with the Department for Transport (DfT).

In October, the train operator was given a new long term contract by the DfT after the government department hailed a strong improvement in Avanti’s services. 

However, there was a rising threat that continued worker shortages and delays would seriously threaten the group’s viability.

In December, Transport for the North (TfN), a body made up of Northern English mayors and councillors, called for a review of the contract handed out by the DfT, as the operator cut its timetable in the wake of the contract extension. 

TfN pointed out in December that less than half of Avanti trains were running on time, while 32% were either canceled or severely delayed.

Avanti approached Aslef with a pay offer for its drivers, and the £600 “rest day” salary proposal was not one put forward by Aslef in advance.  

The overtime pay bump for workers is likely cheaper than it would be to recruit and train a swathe of new drivers, who wouldn’t be able to get on the track for up to a year after being hired. 

It seems securing the future of drivers was the best option for the troubled train operator, with wider issues around delays and staff morale likely to be a bigger uphill battle.

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