Signalmen 'will cross pickets'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE RAIL strike may turn violent enter a violent phase this week as signal workers prepare to cross picket lines, during the 48-hour stoppage starting at noon on Tuesday.

Railtrack believes that with the help of RMT members breaking the strike for the first time, it can improve on the one- in-four train service provided during last week's one-day stoppage. A 48-hour strike is due from midday on Tuesday.

The sixth 24-hour walkout last Wednesday with the help of RMT members breaking the strike for the first time. Senior managers at Railtrack have drawn up a highly confidential list of signal workers who say they are prepared to defy their union, and Railtrack has offered them help to get to work where necessary.

Behind the scenes, Labour and Conservative MPs are putting on pressure behind the scenes on the two sides in the rail dispute to go to arbitration.

Although Railtrack and the RMT have visited the conciliation service Acas several times, they have not used its arbitration service.

David Madel, a Conservative MP who represents the commuting constituency of Bedfordshire South West, said yesterday that he had lobbied Bob Horton, Railtrack's chairman, Railtrack, and Brian Mawhinney, the new Secretary of State for Transport. Mr Madel, who proposed that a three-person panel should be made up of representatives from the CBI and the TUC with an independent chairman, said: 'I am not advocating beer and sandwiches or the involvement of Number 10. I have mentioned this with Bob Horton who said he would think about it'. Senior members of the Labour party are also working behind the scenes to try to move the dispute to a conclusion. trying to get the dispute brought to an end.

They believe the arrival of a new Secretary of State provides a window of opportunity to move before attitudes become entrenched.

The party's rail spokesman, Brian Wilson, quoted from a statement issued when the last rail dispute was settled in 1989, showing that British Rail then rewarded past improvements in productivity precisely what Railtrack is refusing to do now.

In the Commons last week Peter Snape, a former Labour transport spokesman, recalled the TUC's 1979 'solemn and binding' pledge to mediate in threatened public service strikes, saying it was time 'we wheeled out Mr Solomon Binding and allowed him to negotiate freely between the two sides without interference'.

The Railtrack plan to encourage a return to work risks confrontations which Britain last saw during the miners' strike of 1984-85, but management believes it could be a means of ending the impasse.

John Ellis, production director, said on Friday that non-union signal workers and their families who were working during the strikes had already been the subject of 'intimidation and bullying'.

As part of its "hearts and minds" campaign among signal staff, managers found that Rail managers They say some RMT members who had been prepared to strike one day a week disagree d with the escalation of the dispute and now want ed the campaign called off.

By the time industrial action already planned by the union comes to an end, employees will have lost around pounds 700 each.

To follow this week's strike, the union plans a 24-hour stoppage next week and two days of action the week after.

In a gesture to undermine the morale of strikers, the company expects some un-named routes to run for the first time since the dispute started. during the dispute operated by RMT signalmen.

It is unlikely that many union members will break the strike, which was backed by a four-to-one vote, but management believes it will have a symbolic importance far outweighing the numbers involved. Signal workers have a reputation both for moderation and for loyalty to their union.

Claims by Bob Horton, Railtrack chairman, that there had already been a 'trickle' back to work, have been consistently denied by the ir union.

Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT, said the message from all parts of the union was the that action would remain ' solid. ". Mr Knapp said:"We 'We have seen no signs of our members wanting to break the strike. There is a strong, determined feel about this dispute.'

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Knapp said yesterday that despite informal efforts by the conciliation service Acas, the management were was refusing to move from their its 'entrenched position'.

The union has told Acas in writing that it is prepared to enter fresh negotiations provided Railtrack addresses their its claim for an 'upfront' payment for past improvements in productivity.

Mr Ellis told the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee on Friday that despite private contacts between senior managers and union leaders, there were still considerable differences between the sides.

Other company sources say there were face-to-face meetings at various locations last week involving Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the union, Vernon Hince, and RMT's chief negotiator and David Armstrong, the company's director of human resources.

Railtrack wants agreement to fresh efficiency measures before agreeing a pay increase. As revealed in the last week's Independent on Sunday, management has drawn up other plans to beat the strikes. it ltrack is considering making its present offer to individuals, in an attempt to bypassing the union.

It may also withdraw the package completely, which could deprive signal workers of up to pounds 1,700 in pension entitlements.

The British Rail pension fund will be divided up between the industry's new operating companies on 1 October in proportion to basic pay rates.

Railtrack's present offer is for an temporary and unconsolidated increase of 6 per cent to be followed by a rise on basic rates of between 13 and 26 per cent. when the detail of the deal is worked out.

A range of allowances would be abolished and the package would yield a rise of less than 4 per cent on total earnings. Signal staff have been offered a separate increase of 2.5 per cent which is on offer throughout the industry.