pounds 25,000 pay deal for train drivers

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Drivers at South West Trains are set to accept a productivity deal which will guarantee them pounds 25,000 a year, making them the highest paid drivers in the industry.

The deal is part of a quiet revolution taking place on the railways, with drivers tearing up rule books and discarding 100-year-old work practices to boost their salaries with the new rail companies, in return for greater flexibility.

The SWT package, which more than doubles the previous guaranteed wage, involves a switch from traditional wages to salaries. The 800 drivers will also enjoy a two-hour reduction in their working week to 37 hours. The productivity deal would mean that average earnings could rise by more than 13 per cent, on top of a 2.9 per cent rise negotiated in April.

The previous rate was pounds 11,950 per year, but additional allowances, such as payments for unsocial hours, mileage and overtime, will be consolidated into a salary of between pounds 25,000 and pounds 26,000 a year,

In return, the union will agree to more driver-only operation of trains, dispensing with guards, and a higher proportion of shift time being spent driving trains rather than sitting in depots. Duty times will now range from six to 11 hours, rather than seven to nine hours.

All but pounds 7,000 of the new salary will be pensionable, ensuring much higher pensions for drivers. The company is assuring no compulsory redundancies, split shifts or part-time working.

The drivers' union, Aslef, believes the SWT package is one of the best deals being thrashed out with 30 train companies. The union has agreed productivity packages with four companies and three offers are out to ballot among drivers. Salaries range from pounds 20,600 at Central Trains to pounds 24,000 at East Coast.

While there are job losses in all the deals - East Coast is losing 80 out of 350 drivers - Aslef has successfully negotiated that these will be lost through natural wastage.

Lew Adams, Aslef general secretary, said his executive had no hesitation in recommending the proposed agreements. "It is another step towards improving the living standards of drivers and rewarding them for the exacting job they have to undertake."