Summer rail strike threat loses steam

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The threat of a summer of strikes by 100,0000 rail workers receded yesterday after union leaders agreed to take part in a commission to investigate a £600m pensions deficit.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union, the industry's biggest union, said it would participate in the inquiry after reporting that members had voted by more than three to one to walk out.

The train drivers' union, Aslef, called off its strike vote last week after agreeing to the investigation, and yesterday the white-collar union Transport Salaried Staffs' Association suspended its ballot because of the breakthrough.

However, Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, said his strike mandate would remain "live" while the commission was set up. The union revealed that its members backed industrial action over pensions by 16,203 votes to 4,989, reflecting their depth of feeling over the issue.

A spokesman for the state-backed infrastructure organisation, Network Rail, welcomed the unions' agreement to the commission, but urged the RMT to withdraw the strike threat - a point echoed by the Association of Train Operating Companies.

Gerry Doherty, the TSSA general secretary, said the "vast majority" of employers in the industry supported the creation of a commission. He said the industry-wide pension scheme has about 100 different sections, and that unions wanted them reduced to three.

Keith Norman, the general secretary of Aslef, said the commission was a major step forward. "I'm pleased we are talking rather than fighting," he said.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "The establishment of the commission is conditional on the withdrawal of the pensions strike ballot."