Six more networks set to join rail strike

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The Independent Online
Industrial unrest on the rail network spread after guards and catering staff at another six train operators voted to walk out.

In the wake of the ballot results announced yesterday, the RMT transport union called 24-hour strikes on Friday 20 September and Monday 23 September.

Staff at a further four companies were already due to walk out on 23 September, raising the prospect of 10 separate stoppages that day. The action will involve 6,000 employees and cause considerable disruption in much of the rail system.

The networks affected include the flagship Gatwick Express line, Cardiff Railways, South West Trains, InterCity West Coast, South West Trains, Anglia, and overnight staff at ScotRail who work on InterCity sleepers.

Employers at Thames Trains and a solitary RMT member who works on the Island Line on the Isle of Wight voted against action.

The four lines where guards and catering staff had already opted to walk out are: Regional Railways North East, North West Regional Railways, and South Wales and the West, and guards at ScotRail, who work in a division separate from sleeper staff, had also voted to strike. The dispute could escalate further when the RMT announces ballot results on 20 September for three further companies - South Central, South Eastern and Central Trains.

The disputes involve claims for refreshment breaks and a demand that RMT members be paid for previous productivity improvements.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said that Labour Party plans to curb industrial action in public services would not have helped to avoid the disruption. He said the party's proposals had been drawn up without reference to those who had experience in industrial relations.

He also revealed that the votes to strike have varied from 63 per cent at Anglia to 90 per cent at the Cardiff railway company.

Mr Knapp said RMT members were claiming an 11 percent pay increase for past productivity, but some companies had settled by offering employees an extra pounds 10, which amounted to considerably less than the claim.

He estimated that it would cost the industry only pounds 8m to settle the dispute, around half a per cent of its pay bill. He said the votes displayed both the "disquiet and determination" among staff.

The union had been prepared to be flexible but Mr Knapp argued that the British Rail Board was influencing management and preventing settlements.

Management sources said that some companies believed they were close to peace deals, and were surprised that their employees had voted to take action.

The source calculated that up to half the staff in the companies did not belong to the RMT and many lines would be able to provide services.