Acas offers talks to settle rail dispute: Barrie Clement looks at the prospects for peace as a third strike looms

TALKS aimed at averting Wednesday's third 24-hour stoppage by railway signal workers are expected to start in London today following an invitation from the conciliation service Acas.

But given the deep divisions, resumption of negotiations may have come too late to prevent this week's strike.

This morning, the annual conference in Liverpool of the RMT, the signal staff's union, is likely to give its approval to fresh talks, but delegates are sceptical about management's ability to deliver a settlement after the Government's admission of its close involvement. The threat of industrial action will not be lifted pending a conciliation process in which Acas officials will act as 'go-betweens'.

The union has already given notice of another strike on Wednesday week and there is a possibilty that signal box supervisors, who have helped to provide a skeleton service during the dispute, will also be balloted on industrial action.

Railtrack, the state-owned company which runs the industry's infrastructure, has indicated its readiness to negotiate over a package presented to the union in discussions last Tuesday.

However, in the wake of ministerial intervention, management is unlikely to give ground over its refusal to reward the 4,500 signal workers for productivity gains over the past six years. John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, vetoed an informal offer that would have given signal box personnel 5.7 per cent for past efficiency improvements. Leaders of RMT have argued that fresh productivity changes proposed by Railtrack would produce more than the pounds 4m saving calculated by management. If that contention were accepted, the company would be able to offer the signal workers a bigger rise than the pounds 4 a week average increase that union officials say is now on the table. The Government is insisting that, under its public sector pay policy, all wage and salary increases must be funded by economies.

The company's reputation for incompetence among union negotiators was reinforced at the weekend when Railtrack admitted that it had underestimated some of the pay rises that would result from its package of proposals.

Management wrongly said that some signal operators faced an average drop in earnings of pounds 2,686, when the true figure was pounds 1,025. Railtrack also calculated that one grade would suffer a drop of pounds 1,340 when, in fact, there would be a rise of pounds 172.

The company believes that its present offer will deliver increases for 75 per cent of the employees concerned and pledged that others would be compensated. Railtrack said last night that the company was 'definitely' returning to Acas for talks today and appealed to the union to join them.

A senior RMT official said that the union had always made clear its readiness to solve the dispute through negotiation. 'The matter will be reported to our conference immediately when it opens in the morning, but we see no reason why we should not be able to respond to Acas and resume conciliation.'

National officers of the RMT said yesterday that the union was considering legal action over claimed breaches of safety during last Wednesday's stoppage when some managers allegedly took over signal boxes in localities with which they were not familiar. Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said technicians working on the track did not know whether they were working in safe conditions. Mr Knapp has already sent a letter to the Railway Inspectorate attacking Railtrack for presiding over alleged breaches in safety.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing