Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

RMT rail signal workers to take strike action

Bob Crow: Members "determined" to win fight against Network Rail cuts

Railway signal workers have voted in favour of strikes in a row over jobs and safety, the RMT union has said.

The dispute is over Network Rail plans to cut jobs and for more maintenance work to take place at weekends.

The RMT said 54% of its members backed strikes, but both sides have agreed to hold further talks at conciliation service Acas next week.

Network Rail told the RMT to "stop trying to hold the country to ransom," saying strikes would be "foolish".

Meanwhile, negotiations between British Airways and the Unite union over the planned cabin crew strikes have collapsed, with a three-day walkout due to start on Saturday.

A spokesman for the RMT leader Bob Crow told the BBC the union was giving Network Rail time to get back round the table for more negotiations.

MPs' support

BBC chief economics correspondent Hugh Pym said the 54% was a very narrow majority, which may lead the RMT to pursue a course to a negotiated solution to the dispute.

Turnout in the strike ballot was 71%, with 77% supporting industrial action short of a strike in a second question.

On Thursday, the company met the RMT for talks it described as "professional" and "businesslike".

Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win our fight against Network Rail's cuts programme
Bob Crow
RMT leader

Maintenance workers belonging to the union have already voted to go on strike in protest at the 1,500 job losses at Network Rail, giving a threat of the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest on the railways for more than 16 years.

The RMT said more than 150 MPs have now signed an Early Day Motion opposing the planned cuts and calling on the government to intervene. Of these, 123 are Labour.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the ballot demonstrated members' opposition to cuts and to "the assault on jobs and working conditions" which he said would have "severe safety implications".

"Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win our fight against Network Rail's cuts programme and to stop this reckless gamble with rail safety," he said.

'Held to ransom'

Network Rail has said 1,100 workers have already volunteered for redundancy and the "vast majority" of the cuts will be achieved without resorting to compulsory lay-offs.

Robin Gisby, the company's director of operations and customer services, said the RMT would be "foolish" to move forward with any action.

"This dispute is nothing to do with safety or the job reductions for the maintenance teams - that is a separate issue," he said.

Train companies will seek to run as many services as possible and ensure that customers get all the information that they need
Michael Roberts
Chief exec of Atoc

"Contingency planning is well under way in the event that there is a strike - but we urge the union to get back round the negotiating table and talk to us about the real issues, and stop trying to hold the country to ransom."

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "We are urging both sides in this dispute to continue talking so that any disruption for passengers can be avoided."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said that if the strike went ahead it would "exasperate passengers".

"The priority for train companies is to make things as straightforward as they can for passengers. Operators were liaising closely with Network Rail to establish as soon as possible the consequences of a possible strike for passengers," he said.

"Train companies will seek to run as many services as possible and ensure that customers get all the information that they need."

Shadow transport minister Theresa Villiers said Bob Crow was "trying to drag us back to the 70s and the dying days of the last Labour government".

"As the country struggles out of the recession, the last thing we need is the unions holding the country to ransom," she said.

"The timing of RMT's reckless and damaging strike - to coincide with an election campaign - is yet more proof that the unions are trying to capitalise on Gordon Brown's weak government."



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