Rail overtime ban to hit commuters

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MILLIONS OF commuters across southern England face a chaotic Christmas after train drivers' leaders decided to ban voluntary overtime from next Monday.

The Independent understands that Aslef, the drivers' union, has instructed 400 members at both Connex South-East and Connex South Central to only work normal shifts and refuse to go in on their days off.

A senior union official last night predicted there would be severe disruptions on Connex services running into London Bridge, Waterloo, Charing Cross and Victoria. "This will cause chaos because Connex relies heavily on overtime and rest day working," he said.

Aslef decided to withdraw its co-operation to the voluntary arrangement in protest at a lack of progress in negotiations aimed at reducing the working week from 37 to 35 hours and ensuring that drivers' earnings count towards their pensions.

But management sources at the companies said they were "mystified" by Aslef's decision, arguing that there had been substantial progress in the talks. They also claimed that the Aslef official responsible for drivers at the companies had refused to meet the management until the new year. "The guys actually like rest day working and so you never know how many of them will work normally despite the union decision," one of the sources said.

But Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, said: "They [the companies] have not made the kind of progress we were anticipating. We are not demanding an immediate introduction of a 35 hour week, but we are seeking a firm timetable for its introduction."