Union Aslef hits back after senior Department for Transport figure Peter Wilkinson calls striking Tube drivers "muppets"

 
Catherine Neilan
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The Muppets Visit The Whatnot Workshop At FAO Schwarz
Muppets. Not to be confused with Tube drivers (Source: Getty)

The boss of one of Britain's biggest transport unions has written an open letter to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin after one of his colleagues reportedly called Tube drivers "muppets".

Peter Wilkinson, managing director of passenger services at the Department for Transport, is said to have made the comments during a public meeting in Croydon this week.

Wilkinson also said drivers who resisted change should "get the hell out of my industry", saying "we have got to break them".

"They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can't afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place," he is reported to have said.

Now Aslef is fighting back at what the union called "bizarre and extremely offensive remarks".

In his letter, general secretary Mick Whelan said Wilkinson's position was "surely...untenable", asking McLoughlin to confirm that it was not DfT's position to "break" unions.

Update: In a statement, Wilkinson said: "I apologise for any offence caused by my comments. I care passionately about the rail industry and I am committed to helping government deliver a better rail service for passengers. To do this we need to work with the whole of the rail industry.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson added: “It is right that Peter Wilkinson has apologised for his comments. He has a fine record of delivering a better railway for passengers, and this is what he will continue to do.”

Read the full letter below...

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing further to reported comments made by Peter Wilkinson, managing director of passenger services at the Department for Transport, on 18 February at a public meeting in Croydon hosted by Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central. I would be interested to know the extent to which you think Mr Wilkinson’s reported views reflect those of the Department for Transport.

You may aware that during this meeting Mr Wilkinson was reported as describing train drivers as “muppets” who earned £60,000 for working three days a week.

He was also reported as saying that drivers still had the same rest stops as they did during the era of steam trains. I am sure you will appreciate that these statements are completely untrue. I have no doubt a man of Mr Wilkinson’s experience must have known this himself.

Do you agree that Mr Wilkinson deliberately misled the public while speaking in his capacity as a senior DfT official? Also do you think that the term “muppet” is appropriate language to use about the staff who deliver the rail services we rely on every day?

Mr Wilkinson was then reported to have said that he has a plan to enforce changes to drivers’ conditions. He was reported as commenting that “we’re going to have punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support” . He was reported to have told the meeting “we have got to break them…They have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can't afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.”

I thought it was in the interests of the DfT and all rail industry stakeholders particularly passengers to try and avoid breakdowns in industrial relations and not to seemingly relish it. Can you confirm it is the DfT’s position to “break” train drivers and by extension their trade union Aslef?

You will know that railway relies on the good will of train drivers in terms of flexibility and the provision of overtime to function. This will be necessary going forward to meet requirements for future electrification, and the introduction of new rolling stock.

I find Mr Wilkinson’s comments to be both offensive and deplorable as well as being insulting to all hard working rail industry employees. All of this surely leaves Mr Wilkinson’s position untenable?

I look forward to your observations of the comments above.

Yours sincerely,

Mick Whelan

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