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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world