Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Friday, 2 April 2010 11:26 UK

RMT leader Bob Crow vows to re-run rail strike ballot

Bob Crow: 'We don't see ballot papers, they're counted independently'

RMT union leader Bob Crow has pledged to re-ballot members after a rail strike was halted in the High Court.

Network Rail was granted an injunction after it alleged discrepancies in the RMT's ballot for industrial action.

It means a four-day national strike over job cuts and working hours, due to start next Tuesday, will not go ahead.

Mr Crow, the RMT's general secretary, said the judgement was "an attack on the whole trade union movement" and the executive would recommend a fresh vote.

Mr Crow said: "Workers fighting for the principle of a safe railway have had the whole weight of the law thrown against them."

'Shoulder to shoulder'

Network Rail's legal challenge concerned only the ballot of signallers, and did not relate to the RMT's ballot of maintenance workers and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) ballot of supervisors.

But after the ruling, RMT and TSSA announced the two other strikes would be suspended and fresh ballots would be held, the timetable for which would be announced on Wednesday.

TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said the TSSA was standing "shoulder to shoulder" with its sister union to maintain unity.

It is now vital that the two sides in this dispute get back round the table as soon as possible to negotiate a settlement and I call on them to do so
Lord Adonis
Transport Secretary

BBC transport correspondent Richard Scott said that Network Rail targeted signal workers as the trains could not run without them.

Our correspondent added that Network Rail will hope the new ballot produces a vote against industrial action, but it was also possible that the court case had angered signallers and that the next vote would produce a bigger majority.

Earlier, Charles Bear QC, representing Network Rail, told Mrs Justice Sharp, who made the order, that "unlawful" strike action would cause "immense damage to the economy".

Judge Sharp said she had come to "a very clear conclusion" that the interim injunction should be granted. She also refused the RMT permission to appeal.

Robin Gisby, head of operations at Network Rail, said: "The signallers' strike is off and train services next week will run as normal.

"This is good news for the millions of passengers who rely on us every day, for our freight users and for the country.

"A dispute with the unions remains, however, and we have a responsibility to our people to continue talking to the unions to find a settlement that works for us all."

The RMT had planned to strike over Network Rail's plans to cut 1,500 jobs and increase evening and weekend maintenance work.

The union said the plans would affect rail safety.

'Huge relief'

In court, Network Rail alleged the RMT balloted 11 signal boxes that do not exist, and that in 67 locations the numbers of union members balloted exceeded the total number of employees working.

It also claimed that 26 workplaces were missed out, giving RMT members at these locations no opportunity to vote.

But Mr Crow told the BBC he did not feel he needed to apologise for ballot errors and the decision was "a travesty of justice for democracy".

Dyan Crowther, Network Rail: "We want to resolve this dispute amicably"

"There's 1,700 workplaces and over 18,000 workers that work on the Network Rail sites, and we have to at any given moment in time before we ballot, name every single grade and every work location.

"By the time you finish the audit it's like the Forth Bridge - you start again because someone else has been promoted, someone else has been sacked, someone dies and so on. It's a moving feast," he said.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher said Network Rail said it had challenged up to 300 votes in the ballot, which it claimed could have swayed the vote from a yes to a no.

"In the end, that wasn't actually relevant to what the court decided - [the court] didn't have to look at whether the way the ballot was carried out affected the outcome; all it had to consider whether that process had been followed correctly," he said.

Responding to the strike cancellation, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said it would be "a huge relief" to passengers.

"It is now vital that the two sides in this dispute get back round the table as soon as possible to negotiate a settlement and I call on them to do so," he said.

'Transport meltdown'

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the "unnecessary and irresponsible strike would have been bad for passengers, bad for business and bad for the economy" and "every effort should be made to negotiate a settlement".

"While Gordon Brown and his weak government were powerless in the face of growing union militancy, the strike laws passed by the last Conservative government have brought the country back from the brink of transport meltdown," she added.

It's becoming increasingly easy for employers, unhappy at the prospect of a dispute, to rely on the courts to intervene and nullify a democratic ballot for industrial action on a mere technicality
Brendan Barber
TUC general secretary

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker welcomed the news, but warned it was "a temporary reprieve".

"It's time for Network Rail and the RMT to get back round the table. The RMT must put the problems of the railway ahead of political point-scoring," he said.

Rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus said passengers would be relieved.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said passengers wanted to see renewed efforts to resolve the issue, "not just a postponement of the pain".

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said train users could "breathe a sigh of relief" and "hope the unions will see sense by not re-balloting their members".

But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the decision would "simply drag the dispute out and make it more difficult to solve."

"It's becoming increasingly easy for employers, unhappy at the prospect of a dispute, to rely on the courts to intervene and nullify a democratic ballot for industrial action on a mere technicality.

"Unions will be disappointed by this latest decision. Disputes between employers and unions should be settled by negotiation," he said.



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