Rail passengers face prospect of more strikes

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The Independent Online
A 24-HOUR rail strike by signal workers this Wednesday and increased industrial action next week looked increasingly likely last night. Union leaders expressed considerable pessimism about resuming talks this evening, writes Barrie Clement.

The RMT transport union is expected tomorrow to give notice of yet another stoppage on Wednesday week and could face calls for twice-weekly strikes thereafter by delegates to its annual conference next Monday.

The board of Railtrack, the state-owned company which runs the industry's infrastructure, meets today ahead of this evening's session to assess the situation. A management spokesman said it would give directors an opportunity to see if there could be any 'fine-tuning' of a package already presented to RMT. He denied union suggestions that the delay in talks was to enable Railtrack to consult the Government. The adjournment of talks on Saturday was to 'allow time for internal discussions . . . not to receive any instructions from outside the company'.

The session on Saturday, which involved a brief face-to-face meeting followed by separate discussion at the conciliation service Acas, was adjourned despite protests from the union.

Vernon Hince, chief union negotiator, said he was 'disillusioned' with management's ability to negotiate since it became clear that government officials were involved. 'It's like being in a quagmire in a maze,' he said.

Officials from both Downing Street and the Department of Transport were present at Railtrack's internal discussions last Friday. John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, has admitted intervening at a time when the company had apparently made an informal offer of 5.7 per cent which was later withdrawn.

The company has made a 2.5 per cent offer to the signal workers' original 11 per cent claim.

Cock-up or conspiracy?, page 2

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