Network Rail threatens union over strike

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Network Rail is considering serving an injunction on the RMT union in an attempt to quash a national ballot for strike action on Britain's railways.

Network Rail is considering serving an injunction on the RMT union in an attempt to quash a national ballot for strike action on Britain's railways.

The RMT is set to announce the result of the ballot on 17 May and industrial action could begin the following week, which would grind parts of the rail network to a halt.

However, Network Rail suspects that the ballot of 7,000 workers is illegal and will decide this week whether to serve a High Court injunction on the union to halt it.

Peter Bennett, Network Rail's director of human resources, said: "An injunction is being seriously considered."

Network Rail claims it has grounds for a challenge because the union has failed to provide it with sufficient information. By law, a union balloting for industrial action must give the company a list of the staff, and their workplaces, being balloted.

In a letter sent to the RMT's general secretary, Bob Crow, last month, Network Rail claimed that the union's list included 878 employees, or 19 per cent of the members being balloted, whose workplaces were "unknown".

Furthermore, Network Rail alleged that the list contained "reference to members who clearly cannot be employees of Network Rail" - something the RMT denies.

Network Rail insiders said that the company would spend the week "gathering further evidence" before making a final decision on whether to serve an injunction on the RMT. This would involve interviewing staff members who had received ballot papers.

Network Rail hopes that it will be able to follow in the footsteps of London Underground. In 2001 the company blocked strike action by the RMT because the ballot was not conducted properly.

An RMT spokesman said that since sending Network Rail the information on its members, it had "made some amendments to the list". But he conceded that, "where we have not been able to [update the information] then we have listed the location as 'unknown'. Network Rail is not prepared to give us the information [on where members work]."

The RMT also branded the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992, which requires unions to provide companies with information on employees being balloted, as "anti-union".

The RMT is incensed over Network Rail's decision to close its final salary pension scheme to new members. The union is also angry at Network Rail's pay offer. The company has given staff three different pay options that amount to a rise of around 3.5 per cent.

John Armitt, Network Rail's chief executive, wrote to staff last week spelling out the implications of industrial action. "When the Government is reviewing the industry and when our performance is actually improving significantly, the public will not understand why a strike now makes sense.

"In short, a strike will damage all of us and everything we have worked hard for together," said the letter.