Signal staff push union to seek peace talks

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TALKS to end the signal workers' dispute are expected to begin within a few days, after a national delegate meeting of the RMT rail union urged its leaders yesterday to shift ground.

Amid predictions of the rail network being cut in half if the dispute goes on, union leaders are expected to extend an olive branch to Railtrack today or tomorrow.

The RMT's executive is thought likely to abide by the wishes of the 100-strong delegate conference, held in Great Yarmouth over the weekend, and seek negotiations over the management's restructuring proposals 'in parallel' with the union's claim for an up-front payment for past productivity improvements.

Jimmy Knapp, the RMT's general secretary, said: 'This is a positive and serious move to bring Railtrack back to negotations. Our claim has not been abandoned and it must be negotiated at the same time as restructuring.'

Railtrack welcomed the news and said talks could begin soon if the union approved the delegates' decision. Until now, the RMT has said Railtrack must address a claim for an interim payment before talks on new working methods begin. The RMT delegates' resolution marks a change in mood rather than a substantive concession, but it provides the best basis for talks since negotiations broke down two months ago.

Acknowledging the militant mood of some delegates, the resolution agreed at the weekend advised the executive that industrial action should be stepped up if there was no immediate progress in talks. It also insisted any proposed settlement should be voted on by the 6,000 signal workers.

If the RMT executive takes up the suggestions made by the delegate conference it is thought that the first contact will be with the conciliation service Acas.