The executive of the RMT transport union ordered a 24-hour strike, by Railtrack signal staff on Thursday 8 September, to coincide with a debate on transport at the TUC's annual congress in Blackpool. In the absence of any talks on the productivity issue at the heart of the dispute, the union has scheduled a 48-hour stoppage beginning at noon next Tuesday.
The decision by the union to call a ballot of their members on London Underground follows a similar move by Aslef, the union representing Tube drivers. Both are protesting about an imposed 2 per cent pay deal, compared with 2.5 per cent accepted by most of their colleagues on the 'overground' network.
If London Underground workers vote yes, the unions have decided to co-ordinate stoppages. That would mean joint action between Railtrack's signal staff and Tube employees from the end of September. Voting among London Underground RMT members will end on 19 September.
Given the impasse between the RMT and Railtrack over signal workers' pay, travellers in the South-east could face a miserable winter, with overground and underground systems closed regularly.
London Underground, which carries 2.5 million passengers daily, has been forced by government policy to find savings of pounds 48m in 1995-96.
The company has refused to increase the 2 per cent pay rise and said it will back-date it to 1 April regardless. A spokesman has warned that any additional money would mean redundancies.
In a 70 per cent response, Tube train drivers have voted by 72 per cent to hold a strike ballot
Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT and president of the TUC, said that fresh action had been called after hearing reports from all regions that support had remained strong for the dispute. 'Railtrack are now under enormous pressure from train operating companies to bring the dispute to an end,' he claimed.
'Instead of wasting time, money and energy manufacturing false claims about the number of trains they are running, I suggest Railtrack put these efforts into negotiating on RMT's claim.'
Railtrack forecast that RMT members will continue to return to work next week during the strike and that nearly half the normal train services will be provided.