Peace talks in Jubilee Line row

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BELEAGUERED MANAGERS at the flagship Jubilee Line project were last night considering a peace formula to end the highly damaging week- old strike by electricians.

The unofficial stoppage has delayed completion of the line, which has already been postponed four times and which needs to be finished in time to link central London with the Millennium Dome by late 1999.

Earlier yesterday the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union called off a mass meeting of up to 600 electricians on the grounds that there was "nothing new to say" to the strikers. Officials of the union had been due to urge the men to call off the industrial action. Instead they presented proposals to end the conflict to Drake & Scull, the electrical contractor, and Bechtel, the American trouble-shooter brought in in September to get the project finished.

The industrial action was sparked by a decision to transfer a dozen electricians from the London Bridge site to Green Park. The strikers argued the men were being victimised because they pointed out deficiencies in a fire- alarm system at London Bridge. They said it was impossible to hear the siren on some parts of the site. Management disputed the claim, saying "bloody-mindedness" rather than health and safety prompted the walk-out.

The project has been dogged by a series of problems, including financial crises, technical failures, industrial unrest and acts of God since it began. Last month electricians walked out for a day after they demanded an extra day's pay for each seven worked in exchange for relinquishing their rights under the Working Time Directive. Since 1 October, when the directive was incorporated into British law, the men have worked a 48- hour week in strict adherence to the directive.

The AEEU believes the fractious industrial relations are the fault of London Underground, which refused to sign the normal agreement which applies to major construction sites - such as power stations and bridges - where there is a strict completion date. The deal provides for tight control on employees and unions in return for high wages. Union officials say that Jubilee Line management decided in the middle of the last recession that a more laissez-faire approach would keep wages and costs down.

Tube bosses yesterday said they were still confident the Jubilee extension would be delivered on time despite admitting the industrial action had halted vital work along the entire length of the line.

Almost 30,000 man hours of work have been lost since the 600 electricians walked out on Monday last week. A JLE spokeswoman said the strike had affected "practically everything". No work on wiring the signalling, power supply, communications systems, platform- edge doors or ventilation systems has taken place for a week. "We have been saying the productivity among the electricians is unacceptable and how every time Drake & Scull try to manage the problem the electricians walk out. Hopefully we are going to get it up and running and that, as part of that, productivity will be improved," she said, adding that the new working practices would help make up for the lost time. The line was originally scheduled to open in spring 1999 but the date has been put back to "late autumn" 1999. The project has been delayed by problems with signalling, delayed delivery of the trains and safety fears over tunnelling equipment used.

r Members of the RMT transport union at the Docklands Light Railway, which connects central London and Canary Wharf, are to be balloted on industrial action in a dispute over shift arrangements and working practices. Any strikes would hit the service on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. A stoppage planned for 3 December on London Underground's Northern Line has been called off.

r British travellers faced disruption yesterday as strikes across Europe halted trains. Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel were severely affected: only two out of 20 trains between Waterloo and Brussels ran. Rail traffic was halted in Belgium and severely disrupted in France, Greece and Luxembourg.

The strikes were organised by the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the EU in protest at European Commission plans to deregulate the industry.

How Project Went Off the Rails

1989: Olympia & York, Canary Wharf developer, agrees to pay pounds 400m. Cost estimated at pounds 1bn.

1992: O&Y fails on first payment of pounds 40m in April. It goes into administration.

Oct 1993: Agreement is reached for Canary Wharf Ltd to take over O&Y's responsibilities, to pay an initial pounds 98m, plus pounds 300m 25 years after line is opened.

Dec 1993: John Major starts the first pile-driver for Canary Wharf station. Estimated cost now pounds 1.8bn.

Oct 1994: Tunnel on the Heathrow Express collapses. The same "new Austrian tunnelling method" is used at Waterloo and London Bridge and work comes to a stop until Jan 1995.

Feb 1996: Greenwich wins race to host the millennium celebrations.

Oct 1996: Government refuses to bail out LT over rising costs, put at pounds 2.5bn.

March 1997: Project is at least six months late.

Feb 1998: Opening put back to spring 1999. Innovative signalling system discarded.

Sept 1998: Deadline put back to late autumn 1999. Bechtel, the US engineering giant, brought in as manager.

Nov 1998: Cost pounds 2.85bn. Unofficial electricians' strike. Allegations of sabotage.