Rail strike set to go ahead as talks fail: Commuters plan to spend day at home

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of rail commuters are planning to stay at home tomorrow after talks between union leaders and British Rail failed to avert the threatened 24-hour national strike.

The prospect of huge traffic jams and the need to spend two nights away has led many employees to opt to work at home or take a day's leave. Hotel accommodation, normally booked solid in central London during rail disputes, was available for both nights.

The London Chamber of Commerce said many companies were allowing staff the choice of working from home or taking time off. 'People are conscious that employers need at least a skeleton staff and will make an effort where necessary,' a spokeswoman said.

Commuters in London face further disruption as 7,000 bus drivers stage a third one-day stoppage in protest at pounds 60 a week pay cuts and demands for longer hours. Management of London Underground expects normal working although some lines shared with BR could be affected.

Members of the National Union of Mineworkers are also to strike over job losses and pit closures in the worst day for industrial relations since rail, dock and tube strikes three years ago.

BR, which will lose pounds 10m as a result of the dispute, advised all passengers to complete their journeys by 10pm tonight. Few, if any, trains are likely to run over the 24 hours.

Although the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which has called the stoppage, represents only about half of BR's 120,000 workforce, it controls key groups such as signal staff. Jimmy Knapp, union general secretary, said the strike would be solid: 'Our members are very loyal; they will close ranks after a democratic vote.'

The union wanted assurances that there would be no compulsory redundancies and wanted limits imposed on the use of contract labour to replace staff jobs.

But Paul Watkinson, BR personnel director, said the dispute was 'senseless' and warned it would damage BR as the corporation was beginning to recover business after the recession. 'They asked me to give a guarantee of jobs for life which I obviously couldn't give. They're asking for something no employee in the land has got,' he said.

Lloyds Bank said it would be providing coaches to pick up staff in some south London suburbs while Barclays was considering whether employees could work from home or in a branch near where they lived.

Accountancy firms in central London were bringing forward client visits so staff did not have to commute while other companies were paying their staff's parking charges. Employees with company cars were being told to use them.