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
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans is the favourite to replace Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing