BR hints at face-saving local deals for drivers

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Train drivers' leaders are today expected to resume talks with British Rail in an attempt to avert Friday's 24-hour strike.

In a meeting yesterday, BR management insisted there would be no "general increase" above the 3 per cent already accepted on behalf of signal workers, but there was scope for local negotiations on restructuring with the 30 newly created BR companies.

It is understood that while such deals were always expected, British Rail may agree to use its influence to bring the agreements forward.

Such a peace formula to avoid a campaign of six day-long strikes would be a face-saving formula for Aslef, the train drivers' union. But union leaders last night were pessimistic about the chances of a deal and said they would carry out their strike mandate unless BR made a better general offer.

Paul Watkinson, BR's director of personnel, told Aslef leaders yesterday that their union was "isolated" by the decision of most members of RMT, the industry's largest union, not to take industrial action. He told them there was no question of responding to their claim for a general above- inflation increase.

Although BR management has the power to advise the companies on their pay structures, it is highly unlikely to set specific figures for future wage rises.

The RMT last Friday reported a vote in favour of 24-hour strikes at London Underground and Tube train drivers are also expected by Aslef to vote to walk out. Employees at London Underground are protesting over a 2.75 per cent pay offer. It is envisaged that they will join the third 24-hour stoppage planned by BR train drivers on 27 July.