At a public meeting held online on Wednesday 4 August 2021, leaders of three rail unions spoke out about their concerns over the future of Eurostar and launched a petition calling for government support.
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. Although 70 per cent of Eurostar staff are based in the UK, Eurostar International Limited is jointly owned by SNCF, the national railway of France (55%), investment firms (40%), and the National Railway Company of Belgium (5%).
This has led to discussions between the UK Government, which feels that the owners need to take primary responsibility for keeping the company running, and the unions, which want to support and protect British-based workers. The government has also held discussions with its European counterparts.
Speaking at the meeting, Mick Whelan, general secretary of 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.”
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.
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.”
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes stated: “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.”