Flexible Rostering Strike


The crew of the Sealink Ferries (a subsidiary of British Rail) owned the car ferry 'Senlac' had staged an occupation of the ship which started on the 4th January 1982. This action was a direct result of the inability of the Anglo-French partners to negotiate a joint service agreement. Sealink UK Ltd announced that they would be withdrawing ‘Senlac’ from the service and would leave it solely to the French and Senlac would be sold (Senlac was the only ferry operating on the Newhaven ~ Dieppe route that was owned the U.K.). Her crew promptly responded by occupying the ship and blocking the ramp at Newhaven. The dispute quickly spread and the ship's officers refused to move the ship, this left the ship being moored on the quay side until the occupation ended. 

The people of Newhaven and the surrounding area rallied around and gave their full support to the crew on the ferry, with donations of food and other essentials necessary for the ‘occupation’. Two large banners stating “Save our Senlac” and “Thanks Newhaven” were draped across the ship’s funnel and side.

The A.S.L.E.F. members of Seaford depot, gave their full supported to the occupation of the Senlac crew, with many of them having been worked at Newhaven Loco Shed and still lived in the town. The ferry service from Newhaven, played a major part of the working life of Seaford depot, which involved Seaford depot working the ‘boat trains’ from Newhaven Harbour (Marine) to Victoria 'E' , which connect with the ferries arrivals and departures.  

In recognitions to the support given by A.S.L.E.F. members of Seaford depot to this dispute, they decided to incorporate the  Senlac' ferry into their own depot strike badge some months later, which also shows them commemorating their 100% involvement in the 1982 A.S.L.E.F. strike. 

Peter Longhurst Collection

 Senlac moored at Newhaven during the occupation of ship by it's crew in January 1982

Railway accident on British Railways

Southern Region 

Central Division


East Croydon 16th January 1982 

Involving Norwood Driver Stephen Walton & Secondman 

Nick Rowles & Brighton MT Bernie Hayne 



By Mick Humphrys

A.S.L.E.&F.’s industrial action actually began in January and February with a series of one-day strikes on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, resulting in 17 days of stoppage in total, culminating in an indefinite strike being called at 00:01 on Sunday 4 July which ended at 23:59 on Sunday 18 July.

The primary reason for the industrial dispute was the British Railways Board’s insistence on the introduction of ‘flexible rosters’ with a day length of seven to nine hours, resulting in the abolition of the 8 hour day. The 8 hour day – which J.R. Raynes describes, in Engines and Men, his history of A.S.L.E.&F., as ‘the Society’s crowning achievement’ – was achieved in 1919 with the British Board of Trade after much struggle with the private railway companies which had scant regard for the working conditions of their employees.

The road to the dispute started with the 1980 pay settlement and the promise of a one-hour reduction in the working week. How this 39 hour week was to be implemented was not agreed at the time. Flexible rostering was number two on a list of 19 items the B.R.B. prepared at the time to be discussed – I stress, discussed, not agreed – on productivity. Further items included an easing of our manning agreement and the introduction of the train man concept.

With the May 1981 pay claim the B.R.B. offered 7% which was rejected. A hearing with Lord McCarthy at the Railway Staff National Tribunal found in the union’s favour and instructed an immediate 8% plus 3% payable in November.

That was rejected by the B.R.B., the first time a decision at the R.S.N.T. had ever been rejected by one of the parties involved. A.S.L.E.&F., in response, threatened strike action and in August took the dispute to A.C.A.S. where a settlement was reached on the 8% being paid plus 3% in January 1982, backdated to November 1981.

In a totally separate agreement at A.C.A.S. it was agreed that A.S.L.E.&F. would discuss certain aspects of productivity, flexible rostering being one. It should be stressed that it was ‘agreed to discuss’, with no commitment made to ‘reach agreement’.

But in late December 1981 as the B.R.B. had made no progress with A.S.L.E.&F. on flexible rostering they informed us that they were not prepared to honour the 3% pay increase outstanding from the pay claim. That led to the strikes in January and February after which the B.R.B. settled. It was agreed to take the B.R.B. claim for flexible rostering back to the R.S.N.T. which, unsurprisingly, resulted in a finding in the board’s favour.

A.S.L.E.&F. rejected this decision, stating that the rostering proposals were unworkable. The B.R.B. decided to implement flexible rosters at selected depots in the hope that they could divide the union and pick off the depots one by one. When the executive committee was informed of these plans they immediately called for the indefinite stoppage, which began on Sunday 4 July.

There was a smear campaign against train drivers, this union, and the labour movement in the Tory press and an increasingly hostile B.R.B. began dancing to the tune of the Thatcher government which saw this as a chance to begin its attack on the trade unions.

The B.R.B. sank to the lowest depths during its pitiful negotiations when, on Thursday 15th July, encouraged by Thatcher and her cronies, it stated its intention to close the entire railway network from 00:01 on Wednesday 20 July and to formally dismiss all employees still taking strike action. In response the Trades Union Congress meet with A.S.L.E.&F. and the other rail unions on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 July and, despite expressing ‘grave concern’ at the threat of dismissal as the ‘most serious departure from industrial relations practices by a public corporation’, failed to offer A.S.L.E.&F. and us, the strikers, any meaningful or constructive support. The T.U.C. went on to recommend that the B.R.B. withdraw its intention to close the railway network and dismiss every employee after which the E.C. instructed members to return to work accepting the implementation of provisional flexible rosters.

The failure of the T.U.C. to support a trade union and its members taking legitimate industrial action, and threatened with dismissal, emboldened Thatcher and the Conservative government to take on the whole trade union movement – the miners were next, in the strike of 1984-85 – bringing in draconian anti-union laws which remain in place to this day.

In the aftermath of the strike, the once harmonious and pleasant atmosphere in mess rooms could quickly change with a negative attitude towards colleagues who, for their own selfish reasons, had not supported the strike; sometimes verbally but, more often than not, with silence. Many such ‘colleagues’ had worked excessive overtime during the period.

On the whole, however, the strike call and industrial action were fully supported by the vast majority of the A.S.L.E.&F. membership, uniting young and old. As for management, flexible rosters did not produce anywhere near the improvement in productivity they had hoped but, at many depots, there was an erosion of the quality of diagrams and work content.

This rostering ‘blueprint’ did, though, come to be the rostering format going forward and is still used by many companies to this day.

This article was extracted and adapted from the Locomotive Journal, July 2022

Mick Humphrys, a second man (driver’s assistant) at Euston during the 1982 strike, has compiled a 32 page booklet about the dispute with the help of 

Paul Edwards, the late Phil Plaine of Brighton branch & Cliff Holloway off Stratford R.M.S.

The Flexible Strike July 1982 see Sub Page 

Extracted and adapted from

Tunbridge Wells Meeting

 Sunday 21st  February 1982, 10.15 a.m.

at the Welfare Rooms Tunbridge Wells Central Station


The Secretary then informed the members present that there were 4 members at this depot with 20 years service but three were not in attendance at this meeting, only Bro. M. Allen. The Secretary then asked our Honourable Member, Bro. Vic Rumley to congratulate our member on his long service with the Union.

Bro. V. Rumley did mention before handing over the presentation badge that he would thank Bro. M. Allen for all the good and hard work put in, not only as L.D.C. Secretary now but as a Branch Secretary of the past, also the loyalty put into the depot, for whatever he does. This was agreed by all.

In return Bro. M. Allen was asked to present Bro. V. Rumley with a 1982 Diary and a Honourable Membership Card and made it known that he was welcome at anytime to come to Branch meetings and join in the debates. This was agreed by all.


Eastbourne Driver Harry Whitlock's day before his retirement 1982

 Extracted and adapted from

Ore Branch Meeting 

May 23rd 1982

In the L.D.C. report which followed the loss of work at Ore since 1968 was discussed. Bro. S. Tingley L.D.C. Secretary outlined what had taken place since then, equalisation of mileage etc and non co-operation of Sectional Council to put more work at coastal Depots.

The proposed closure of Ore Depot was brought up, nothing definite at present. The L.D.C. had already listed many items with which to fight the case if the need arose.


Littlehampton Driver Gordon Knight

Gordon Knight's father was a driver at Three Bridges many years ago although I did fire to him once on loan from Horsham, he was my mothers brother, my uncle so Gordon was my cousin, he was known as "Captain birds eye" I think because he had a boat, but that's a story for another day!!!

Gordon was the Motorman who is featured in the original film of the fast run between London Victoria to Brighton 

Informatiom courtsey of Rodney Burstow

Brighton Secondman Mark Organ


On Monday 28th June by Sidney Weighel, General Secretary of the N.U.R., called a strike over flexible rostering. The strike was poorly supported by non train crew grades (Signalmen, station staff etc). On Tuesday 29th June, the N.U.R. called off the strike owing to the lack of support, stating that A.S.L.E.&F. were about to strike over this issue and most of his members knew that A.S.L.E.&F. would have a much greater influence on flexible rostering. This strike was to become known as the "Playtex Strike!”.... the 18 hour strike. 

During the A.S.L.E.&F. strike, Sidney Weighel’s lack of support and his actions during the various forthcoming negations, caused more damaged to A.S.L.E.&F.'s caused. This generated much friction between A.S.L.E.&F. officers and Sidney Weighel, who sided with the B.R.B./the Thatcher Government.

The Flexible Strike July 1982 see Sub Page 

 Extracted and adapted from

Ore Branch Meeting 

November 28th 1982

A lengthy debate followed after this on the question of the proposed depot closure which was to be May 1984. The question of petrol allowance, staff trains, removals etc were all brought up. The L.D.C. confirmed that their main priority was to keep the depot open. The question of approaching St. Leonards Depot L.D.C./Branch Secretary over our joint problem was discussed. The electrification from Hastings - Tonbridge was still on the cards in the not too distant future.

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