BR staff to break strike by manning boxes

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The Independent Online
BRITISH RAIL last night agreed to help to break the signal workers' strike by allowing its employees to staff signal boxes. The action underlines Railtrack's determination to defeat the RMT, although the union said it showed the management's desperation.

While there are likely to be only a limited number of qualified volunteers, the move could have substantial psychological impact on strikers.

A British Rail official said last night that it had agreed to encourage volunteers to cross picket lines because of the 'desperate' state of the industry. BR has warned that there could be job losses; a spokesman said last night that the industrial action so far had cost the industry pounds 130m.

BR may be able to call on about 50 of its employees who previously worked in signal boxes, and certainly no more than 100. An unknown number of BR staff have already come forward, many of whom are now in administrative jobs. Some of them belong to the TSSA white-collar union.

The request for volunteers came from Railtrack, which is clearly determined to win the industrial battle rather than accede to the RMT's productivity claim.

Signs emerged yesterday that Railtrack was having some difficulty in maintaining the improvement in strike-day services. Network SouthCentral is unable to continue through services from London to Brighton next week.

Strike-breaking staff from BR will not be in place during the 48- hour stoppage beginning at noon next Tuesday, but are likely to appear in increasing numbers thereafter as they complete retraining. A further 24-hour stoppage is to be staged on Thursday 8 September.

There was no indication whether former signalmen would receive financial inducements to cross picket lines, but BR said that they would be skilled and would have to be certified by the Health and Safety Executive. There would be no question of coercion.

A Railtrack spokeswoman said it was too early to assess their impact on strike-day services.