Rail union offers talks and calls strikes

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The Independent Online
UNION leaders yesterday coupled warnings of fresh disruption on the rail network and London Underground with a call for talks on both disputes.

Confirmation of a signal workers' strike on Friday came with a new threat of industrial action on Thursday and Friday next week, with a Tube stoppage coinciding with the second day.

However, it is hoped that negotiations on the three-month-old signal workers' dispute will begin within the next 48 hours, and that officials at the conciliation service, Acas, can also arrange a meeting at London Underground. But Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT transport union, warned against premature optimism over the signal workers' dispute. He said: 'The way ahead is not easy. Today's decision does not mean a settlement is around the corner, a lot of tough negotiating remains to be done.'

Mr Knapp pointed out that the union called the fresh bout of 'overground' action to comply with the law which states that there should be seven days' notice of action. He said there had been a shift in the union's strategy, but discounted reports that the call for discussions was a sign of weakness.

The RMT's executive yesterday endorsed a motion passed by a national conference of signal workers in Great Yarmouth at the weekend which called for parallel negotiations on the union's claim and Railtrack's offer.

Employees' representatives had insisted on an 'up-front' payment for past productivity improvements, before addressing the company's demand for fresh efficiency measures and a new grading structure. Railtrack last night registered its keenness to get back into negotiations, but emphasised that it wanted to talk about 'restructuring'.

Vernon Hince, RMT's chief negotiator for the signal workers, contacted Acas last night to prepare for the first face-to-face contact between the union and Railtrack in two months.

The RMT may be on shaky ground in the dispute at London Underground. While RMT members voted 2-1 in favour of disruption, the ballot only attracted a 38 per cent turnout. Staff were voting on a 2.5 per cent pay offer.