Rail strike goes ahead as peace moves founder

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The Independent Online
Tomorrow's 24-hour rail strike is virtually certain to go ahead after behind-the-scenes contact between British Rail and train drivers' leaders failed to find any common ground.

Traffic congestion is expected to be worse than during last Friday's stoppage because commuters are likely to make a greater effort to get to work.

On Friday, a senior BR official spoke privately to Lew Adams, general secretary of the drivers' union Aslef, but the two sides were as far apart as ever.

Management sources said yesterday that a peace package tabled by British Rail last week would be formally withdrawn.

An offer of up to pounds 200 in bonus payments if train operators met financial targets was no longer possible because of the pounds 10m loss inflicted by last Friday's action, officials argued.

Following television appearances in which Mr Adams called for a meeting, a senior BR official rang him on Friday to see if there were any grounds for substantive talks. Mr Adams told the BR man that the union still required an improvement on the offer of a 3 per cent increase on basic rates. He was told that the figure remained BR's final offer and that there was no point in negotiations.

The management accused the union yesterday of refusing to make any concessions and an Aslef spokesman registered the union's "extreme disappointment" that BR was "prepared to allow another day's disruption to take place".

The situation is set to worsen, with Aslef predicting an overwhelming vote among London's Tube drivers for strikes in protest at a 2.75 per cent offer. The expected mandate for industrial action, to be announced on Wednesday, will lead to co-ordinated stoppages on both BR and London Underground, the first of which is scheduled to take place on 27 July.

BR managers were yesterday accused of harassing drivers over the weekend in an attempt to persuade them to ignore the union's call for action. Mr Adams said his members were being harangued by managers within minutes of taking out trains. He said such tactics could undermine safety standards because drivers' concentration might be impaired.

Replying to criticism of a possible pounds 72,000 bonus for John Welsby, the BR chairman, a management spokesman said the payment was dependent on achievement of financial targets. That was looking increasingly unlikely with no end in sight to industrial action, he said.

He said that although managers were warning drivers of the impact of strike action on the industry, there was no question of harassment.

The management spokesman said they had received letters from drivers who did not wish to go on strike, but could not face the consequences from their union if they crossed picket lines. "That is what I call harassment," he said.

Aslef officials said however that the drivers' solidarity was based on anger over the pay offer and loyalty to the union.

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