Biggest rail union votes to shun drivers' strike

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Most members of the biggest rail union have voted against joining British Rail drivers in strike action, but opted for stoppages at London Underground.

Union leaders yesterday said that Tube staff will join the third of six 24-hour walk-outs planned by British Rail drivers on 27 July.

Management at BR said Aslef, the train drivers' union, was now isolated in its campaign of disruption and should abandon the strikes. He called for talks next Monday with the Aslef leadership. Sources at the drivers' union, however, said the executive would meet on Monday and a decision to abandon the campaign of industrial action was unlikely.

Senior officials at the RMT transport union have been presented with a confused result at BR. While there was a narrow vote against stoppages at the main BR company, staff at three subsidiaries, one of which handles Royal Mail, decided to take action. Members will be consulted during the weekend and an emergency meeting of the RMT executive will be held on Monday in an attempt to resolve the problem.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said all options would now be investigated, including the possibility of re-balloting his members at BR.

Mr Knapp said the six separate votes his union was forced to take at various BR companies illustrated the highly fragmented nature of the industry in the run-up to privatisation.

The RMT leader, however, said that the 1,900 to 649 vote to walk out at London Underground over a 2.75 per cent offer constituted a "strong vote in favour of action".

He acknowledged that the first strike by RMT on the Underground could coincide with a stoppage by Tube drivers, who are also conducting their own ballot.

Mr Knapp blamed intimidation at BR for the substantial vote against strikes. "Members have been interviewed on a one-to-one basis and have been threatened with victimisation if RMT voted for action."

He said the result at BR did not mean his members were happy to swallow a 3 per cent increase. He said there was deep dissatisfaction with an offer which meant a reduction in living standards.

Paul Watkinson, head of personnel at BR, said the results showed that most staff agreed 3 per cent was a good offer. "I can see no reason why the union does not now formally accept our offer straight away and bring this unnecessary dispute to an end."

Yesterday's decisions mean that BR drivers will walk out in isolation next Friday and on 18 July. Tube staff are expected to join them for 24- hour strikes on 27 July, 8 and 25 August and 12 September.

n Passport office workers have voted to take industrial action including a ban on overtime in a dispute over jobs.

Members of the Civil and Public Services Association at the Passport Agency will start a work to rule on 17 July.The 1,200 staff are protesting over plans to axe 140 jobs.