Talks on threatened rail strike look doomed

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The Independent Online

Chances of averting next Friday's 24-hour strike by train-drivers looked remote yesterday as union leaders expressed scepticism about management's willingness to negotiate.

A decision on attending talks today with British Rail will be taken by the executive of Aslef, the drivers' union, but a breakthrough seemed unlikely. Lew Adams, the general secretary, said his senior colleagues could well take the view that there would be no purpose in meeting BR "unless and until" management was prepared to sanction a substantially improved pay offer above the inflation rate.

Management issued the invitation to talks last Friday after most members of RMT, the largest union in the industry, rejected strike action over the 3 per cent offer. Yesterday Mr Adams said his union had received a "solid mandate" for a campaign of six day-long strikes. Management had described their proposal as a final offer and there were no signs that it had changed its mind.

The leadership of the RMT will also meet today in the wake of a strike ballot result announced last Friday, in which members of the main BR company and two subsidiaries voted against action, while four other businesses opted to walk out. It is not clear how the RMT executive will deal with the confusing set of results.

As a settlement of the dispute looked unlikely, Aslef leaders accused management of preparing to break the strikes. It is understood some managers have been pressing supervisors to drive trains during stoppages. Drivers who have been promoted to supervisory grades say they have been offered intensive retraining courses.

Mr Adams has warned Terry Worrall, BR's Director of Safety, of the safety implications. He said in a letter that such tactics would constitute a "flagrant breach" of recently introduced higher standards of safety.

RMT members at London Underground have voted by 1900 votes to 649 to stage 24-hour strikes over a 2.75 per cent offer. They are expected to walk out the same day Aslef plans its third British Rail strike on 27 July. Aslef is also balloting Tube drivers, who would also strike on the same day, halting the Underground.