The general secretaries of unions Aslef, RMT and the TSSA have launched a petition calling for government support for Eurostar.
It urges the UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, to lead a government intervention to help support the cross-Channel rail operator – and champions its green credentials in comparison to aviation.
The general secretaries were backed by Eurostar staff, Friends of the Earth and think tank IPPR at an online public meeting on Wednesday.
In May, Eurostar secured a £250 million refinancing agreement with its shareholders and banks having come under great financial pressure due to the pandemic. It has been running only a handful of services per day with staff among the first in the country to go on furlough.
About 70% of Eurostar staff are based in the UK and its services represent the equivalent of 60,000 short haul planes in terms of seats.
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.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch 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.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, added: “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.”
Jenny Bates, a transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The carbon costs of rail versus air are really clear, there’s so much less carbon for rail than air and yet the costs are reversed round the wrong way.
“Yet the aviation industry is subsidised with no tax paid on aviation fuel, there’s no VAT on airline tickets – this is a subsidy effectively worth billions of pounds a year.
“And air passenger duty, which is the only thing which is paid, has gone down in real terms. It just isn’t even comparable with what’s happening on rail.”