Rail union leaders warned today of industrial action at Network Rail after claiming that the firm was threatening to sack its entire maintenance workforce of 13,000 and re-employ a reduced number on new terms and conditions.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said the move was aimed at "bulldozing" through a multibillion-pound cuts package.
The union claimed the threat to sack the workforce, who carry out day-to-day maintenance of tracks, signals and overhead lines, was made during talks with RMT representatives.
The RMT said NR was already aiming to get rid of 2,500 jobs, 1,800 permanent staff and 700 contractors, which amounted to nearly 20% of the maintenance workforce.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow wrote to Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher today demanding that the "mass dismissal" threat be withdrawn.
"It defies belief that the entire workforce of 13,000 staff who keep our rail network safe are being threatened with the sack in one hit.
"The rail maintenance workforce have got a gun pointed at their heads and this union will not negotiate in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation designed to bully our members into signing up to job losses and attacks on their terms and conditions.
"RMT is seeking a clear assurance that Network Rail will stick to the promises it has given Transport Secretary Lord Adonis on no compulsory redundancies, an assurance that has been relayed by the minister to the RMT group of MPs.
"If we cannot get those assurances, then RMT will have no hesitation in considering a ballot for action to protect our members' jobs and their livelihoods."
An NR spokesman said: "This is typical of the rhetoric pushed out by the RMT that has no basis in the truth.
"With new technology and modern ways of working, we simply need less people to maintain a railway that's in the best condition it's ever been in. We're seeking around 1,800 voluntary leavers who will get a full redundancy package."