“The average train driver earns £59,000, the average rail worker earns £44,000, the average nurse, £31,000.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has claimed that the average rail worker earns £44,000 per year, compared to the average nurse’s salary of £31,000. His comments were made during discussions about a strike currently underway by railway workers represented by the RMT union over pay, working conditions and job cuts.
The £44,000 figure has also been repeated by Conservative MPs Nick Fletcher, Jonathan Gullis and Chris Philp when talking about the strikes.
This figure is broadly correct as the median rail sector salary as defined in official figures. However, it is not representative of the average salary of the workers who are striking in this particular action.
Government figure covers rail sector employees
During an appearance on Newsnight on 20 June, government minister Chris Philp said: “The median salary of all railway workers is £44,000.”
The Department for Transport told the BBC this figure came from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which calculated that the median rail sector salary was £43,747 in 2021.
The ONS defines rail sector workers as those employed in one of five roles:
- Rail and rolling stock builders and repairers
- Rail travel assistants
- Rail construction and maintenance operatives
- Train and tram drivers
- Rail transport operatives
It’s worth noting that this figure is a median average—the middle salary in the sector—rather than a mean average.
£44,000 figure is not representative of striking workers
While the salary referred to by Mr Shapps and others includes workers defined as working in the rail sector, it doesn’t represent those who are participating in this week’s national rail strike.
The strike mainly involves members of the RMT union who work on railways. The RMT’s railway strike includes few train drivers, who are included in the government’s figure.
Around 96% of drivers belong to a different union called ASLEF and as such are not involved in this strike action, though a small number of drivers who are RMT members were balloted and participated. The RMT does not provide specific breakdowns of its membership numbers, but told Full Fact that a “tiny proportion” of train drivers were balloted in the national strike.
A separate strike on Tuesday 21 June was held by RMT and Unite workers on the London Underground. Some ASLEF train drivers working on the Greater Anglia service have voted to hold their own strike on Thursday, 23 June, with Hull Trains and south London tram drivers also set to strike later this month.
The ONS has calculated that the median salary for rail sector workers excluding train and tram drivers in 2021 was £36,800. This includes full-time and part-time employees.
The RMT union also includes some members who work on the railways but are not defined as being employed in the rail sector, such as cleaners.
These workers, many of whom are not directly employed by rail companies, but instead by external agencies, are typically on lower incomes.
According to the RMT, the median salary of its rail members is £31,000. This is similar to the median salary of a nurse, which according to ONS data was £31,093 in 2021. This includes all nurses, full-time and part-time. The median salary of a full-time nurse was £35,971.
The RMT has previously told the BBC that by removing train drivers and including cleaners in the government’s £44,000 figure, you get a median salary of £33,000 which it said better reflects the pay of people going on strike.
The RMT told us that the £33,000 figure is based on ONS median salary figures for rail sector roles, excluding drivers, as well as the median salaries of two occupational categories of cleaner, as the ONS does not collect specific salary figures for rail cleaners. The £31,000 is the median salary of the members involved in its dispute as per the union’s own data.
Both of these figures include both full-time and part-time workers. The BBC has calculated that the median pay of full-time workers involved in the RMT national rail strike is £38,000.
However, either way, it would appear that the median salary of those participating in the current RMT national rail strike action is significantly below the median rail worker salary of £44,000 being referenced by the government, though these figures solely refer to RMT members participating in the national rail strike, and do not include workers involved in Tuesday’s tube strike or the upcoming driver’s strikes.
Image by Richard Townshend, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons