Strike will bring Tube to a halt

Capital transport: Industrial relations look backwards but new line puts future on track
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The Independent Online
The Tube network in London will be at a virtual standstill today as drivers walk out on a 24-hour stoppage, just as a landmark reached in the boring for the Jubilee Line extension yesterday means there is now a continuous tunnel between Green Park in the west and Canning Town in the east.

The Tube action coincides with a second national post strike which begins at noon. To add to the industrial unrest, leaders of 900,000 nurses and other health workers yesterday threatened industrial action and warned that the National Health Service pay system was in danger of collapse.

The Tube management was warned that a second union could be taking action over working conditions. But at the Royal Mail hopes of a settlement rose. Contrary to expectation the postal executive of the Communication Workers' Union refrained from naming further dates for strikes following today's action. A letter from management led to hopes that the Post Office would not be dogmatic in its pursuit of "team-working" - the issue at the centre of the dispute.

In the NHS, the public service union Unison yesterday warned that its branches would be given authority to hold strike ballots after 31 July unless management made pay offers. Bob Abberley, head of health at Unison, said that only 150 out of 680 employers in the NHS had agreed to top up the national wage deal of 2 per cent.

Unions lead by Unison last year agreed to a system whereby national pay increases would be enhanced through local negotiation. Mr Abberley said that Unison members felt "angry and betrayed" that so few employers had honoured the agreement.

He said that so far, in spite of a 6.5 per cent pay claim, employers had refused to make any substantial additions, and called on Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, and the NHS executive to intervene.

One-third of the offers were for up to 0.7per cent. A further 60 per cent gave up to1.25 per cent locally and just 5 per cent offered top ups of 1.25 per cent or more, but many involved productivity agreements. Only a handful of deals had so far been accepted.

Mr Abberley said there were a number of reasons for the delay in local agreements. In many cases the "health-purchasing" authorities had not agreed budgets with employers and a number of organisations were simply incapable of negotiating pay.

The Unison official pointed out that the NHS pay review body early this year calculated that a rise of 3.9 per cent had already been built into budgets. He pointed that under last year's agreement negotiations were due to begin in September to uprate national pay next year on the basis of local settlements this year. He argued that there would be few such settlements on which to base the calculations.

At London Underground the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union announced that it was to ballot all 6,000 Tube members on a series of one-day strikes in pursuit of a claim for shorter working hours.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said it was seeking an extra five days holiday for its members and that it would co-ordinate action with Aslef, the train drivers' union. After today's stoppage Aslef intends to bring its London Underground members out for 24-hour strikes next Wednesday and on 8 and 16 July.

Management at London Underground yesterday said they were disappointed with an offer to convene talks under the industry's wages board - the next level of negotiation. The drivers' union said that its executive would be unable to discuss the matter until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a specially constructed cover was broken by a giant 150ton tunnel-boring machine yesterday to mark the breakthrough of the tunnelling for the Jubilee Line extension. Only one out of the four tunnel-boring machines has not yet completed its task and it is expected to reach Canada Water in Docklands by the end of August.

The pounds 2bn project for the 10-mile line from Green Park to Stratford in east London is over-budget, but yesterday Hugh Doherty, the project director, said it was on schedule for opening at the end of March 1998.

The extension will provide relief for the overstretched Docklands Light Railway which is the only line currently to serve Docklands. The start of the project was delayed for over a year while private-sector funding was sought and eventually about pounds 150m of the total cost will come from developers who benefit from the new line. Work eventually started in 1993.