Rail strike called off

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The Independent Online
Train drivers' leaders yesterday suspended their campaign of industrial action pending a ballot of their members on promises of regrading and shorter hours.

Thursday's day-long stoppage on British Rail has been called off, but talks today will decide whether the strike on London Underground will go ahead.

The leadership of Aslef, the train drivers' union, failed after eight hours of talks to secure an increase in a 3 per cent offer on basic pay, but agreed to put the pledges by BR to a vote among 12,000 members.

Management has agreed that the working week should be reduced from 39 to 37 hours by May 1997 provided the union can reach agreement with 22 train operating companies, some of which will then be in the private sector. The reduction in working time will be part of productivity deals and Paul Watkinson, BR personnel director, pointed out that the union would have to make concessions.

Compared with the signal workers' dispute last year, train drivers' leaders have secured far less and the union is by no means assured of a decisive endorsement of the proposal.

Lew Adams, general secretary of Aslef, said the union would not be recommending the offer, but calculated that the reduction in working time was worth between 5 and 6 per cent on pay.

He said that the union had secured as much as it could and did not consider it a defeat. The union had won improvements in management proposals throughout the negotiations yesterday and seven separate documents had been put forward by British Rail, each one improving the terms, Mr Adams said.

Mr Watkinson said that management had stuck to its guns over the three per cent offer and had simply reaffirmed its commitment to restructuring.

Asked if the reduction in working time constituted a guarantee he said: "We haven't committed ourselves to that absolutely."

The union believed they had secured an improvement in management proposals and that was "absolutely wonderful", he said.

The settlement will put increased pressure on Tube management to improve their wage offer from 2.75 per cent to 3 per cent. If there was such an improvement, it is unlikely that London Underground workers would pursue their campaign of 24 hour stoppages.