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National rail strike: train operating company bosses earn more than the PM - and why workers are on strike

Rail bosses are earning as much as £650,000 per year plus benefits, while striking workers have suffered a real-terms pay cut

The directors of train companies where workers have announced national strike action earn almost £300,000 per year on average, NationalWorld can reveal.

Some directors earn more than £500,000 per year plus benefits, while rail workers set for three days of strike action this week say they’ve suffered pay freezes despite a cost of living crisis.

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Which train bosses are paid the most?

Train company bosses are being paid six-figure salaries, as workers prepare to take strike action against them in a dispute over pay, job security and conditions.

While most directors did see their pay reduced from the previous year, almost all of them earn more than the prime minister’s salary of £164,000 – including at one company where only half of trains run on time.

Publicly-owned Network Rail’s top two executives earn almost £1million per year between them.

The two highest paid directors were paid £557,000 and £417,000 each in the year ending March 2021.

The highest paid director, Andrew Haines OBE, took a voluntary reduction in pay of 20% between December 2020 and March 2021.

Network Rail also publishes the amount non-executive directors are paid, with Sir Peter Hendy paid £296,000, significantly more than any other non-exec.

Trades Union Congress  (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady told NationalWorld: “Frontline rail workers have had their pay frozen for the last two years. This is hard to justify when rail firms took £500 million in private profits from the emergency bailout they got in the pandemic, and made big shareholder pay-outs.

“Rail leaders should now be focused on how they can help their hardworking staff keep up with the cost of living, rather than holding their pay down again. But the Conservative government is escalating the dispute by trying to force cuts onto the rail sector.”

Directors’ pay is even higher among the firms which own one or more train operating companies.

The highest paid director of First Group, which owns South Western Railway, Transpennine Express and Great Western Railway, earned £635,000.

The second highest paid director at First Group was paid £450,000, with both seeing an increase on last year as a result of a three-month voluntary pay freeze in 2020.

At Abellio, which owns Greater Anglia, West Midlands Trains and East Midlands Railways, the highest paid director was paid £597,000 in the year ending December 2020 - the last accounts filed for the company.

How are train operating companies performing?

According to the Office of Rail and Roads’ data on punctuality and cancellations, Avanti West Coast is one of the worst performing train operating companies.

Operators are given scores based on how many trains are cancelled and how many are delayed.

Avanti West Coast is the worst ranked for punctuality with just 51% of trains on time between January and March,  the most recent period, and among the worst for cancellations, at 4.7%.

The cancellation measure is a weighted score which counts full cancellations as one and part cancellations - such as stops being missed - as half. On time trains include those up to a minute late.

Despite this the highest paid director at Avanti West Coast, which is run jointly by Arriva and Trenitalia, earned £273,000 in the year ending March 2021.

Of the 16 companies including Network Rail where workers have voted for industrial action, plus the companies which ultimately own one or more of them, only three pay their highest paid director less than the Prime Minister’s salary.

These are Chiltern Railways (£156,000), C2C (£153,427) and South Western Railways (£87,000).

The sector has received significant government support throughout the pandemic, including furlough payments and specific funding packages to make up for the downturn in passenger numbers.

Despite this, some rail companies have paid out significant amounts in dividends in recent years, and many are paying out hundreds of thousands in directors’ pay.

Speaking to NationalWorld, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Fat cat rail bosses have been laughing all the way to the bank while our members have suffered pay freezes for 2 years or more.

"The eye watering salaries show the public that there is plenty of money in the railways and how easy it would be for this dispute on pay and job losses to be settled.

"On top of chief executives earning big money, profits in the rail industry exceed £500 million a year and a lot of that money is leaving the country in tax havens and offshore accounts.

"We need to end profiteering and greed on our railways and create an industry where workers are paid properly and the travelling public have a cheap, accountable service that they can trust."

NationalWorld’s analysis is based on the most recent accounts filings for 14 of 15 train operating companies, Network Rail and the firms which ultimately own one or more of the train operating companies.

Most of the accounts were filed for the financial year ending March 2021, though three relate to the year ending December 2020 and one to the year ending July 2021.

This means that some of the pay information relates to the period during the pandemic, and that many companies are likely paying top executives more in the current period.

Additionally, some directors also receive further payments through their roles at either subsidiaries or parent companies of their train operating companies.

For First Group, pay information was available for the financial year ending March 2022.

Why are rail workers going on strike?

The RMT has announced three days of national strike action later this month as the latest escalation in a long-running dispute over pay, job security and concerns over safety on the network.

Workers from Network Rail and 15 train operating companies were balloted, with 14 ultimately voting for strike action and one for action short of a strike.

Rail staff will walk out on 21, 23 and 25 June, likely leading to cancellations and significant delays across the rail network.

Many types of rail workers were balloted for the action, however train drivers make up a very small proportion of the workers on strike, as they are generally represented by a different trade union, ASLEF.

The RMT says the government and rail companies have failed to offer a suitable solution to the dispute.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has warned that the government could try to bring in agency workers in order to break the strike.

Responding to Mr Shapps’s suggestion, RMT general secretary RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the Transport secretary “needs to stop smearing the RMT and unshackle the rail operating companies so they can come to a negotiated settlement that can end this dispute”.

He said: "Railway workers voted overwhelmingly for strike action in defence of their jobs and for a pay rise that deals with the rising cost of living. It is insulting to them to suggest they do not understand the issues that affect their daily lives or cannot make a democratic decision by themselves.

"We already have the most restrictive anti-democratic trade union laws in Western Europe and if the government attempts to reduce our rights further, the RMT along with the rest of the trade union movement will mount the fiercest resistance possible."