Network Rail faces strike threat over cuts

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The Independent Online

The company to be given day-to-day-command of Britain's rail industry faces a threat of industrial action over a plan for almost 1,000 redundancies which it will reveal tomorrow.

As part of a programme of wholesale reorganisation, Network Rail is seeking the job losses among managers and support staff.

But Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, the industry's largest union, warned of strikes if employees were forced out by compulsory redundancy. Mr Crow said: "We will not stand by and watch rail workers pay the price of years of private sector plunder. We will resist compulsory redundancies with industrial action if necessary."

The union said it was particularly concerned about plans for job losses among those responsible for safety. "The downgrading of safety is simply not acceptable," Mr Crow said.

A spokesman for Network Rail, which took over responsibility for the infrastructure from Railtrack, said some staff would be switched to other jobs in the company, but inevitably there would be some element of compulsory redundancy. He said some posts at the organisation had been rendered redundant by the programme to bring maintenance of the network back in-house - a process completed last week.

Some of the managers who would lose their jobs were responsible for overseeing the performance of contractors. That practice of "man-marking" would no longer be needed. "These people are our colleagues now, not our contracts," the spokesman said.

The company was also changing from one in which the regions enjoyed autonomy to one in which there was stronger central control.

Network Rail believes that when its predecessor Railtrack was sold off by the Government, it was one of the few companies to be privatised and then proceed to take on more staff.

"Railtrack frequently used to announce a headcount reduction, but it never delivered. We are committed to delivering. And the Railtrack costs had ballooned out of control," one management source said.

In an interim review of the industry, the Rail Regulator Tom Winsor had called for a 31 per cent increase in efficiency. The spokesman said this was part of the drive for lower costs the company had announced in June last year, when it said 2,000 employees would have to go within three years. Last autumn, 600 were made redundant and tomorrow a consultation process would begin with unions over about 900 more redundancies. He insisted there would be no job losses among signallers or frontline maintenance staff.

But management conceded yesterday that the organisation might have to take on more employees in new functions it had been given by the Government.