Commuters facing renewed rail strike chaos

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The Independent Online

Rail passengers on busy commuter and other routes are facing fresh travel chaos after strikes were called today in separate disputes over pay and the sacking of a worker.

The drivers' union Aslef said its members at National Express East Anglia will walk out for a week from 21 September after failing to accept a deal aimed at ending a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

Workers staged a series of strikes last month, causing huge disruption to services from London's Liverpool Street to Essex and East Anglia, but the action was suspended after a new deal was put forward.

Aslef said today its 800 members had refused to accept the deal in a ballot, so more strikes will be held in the week running up to Labour's annual conference in Brighton.

National Express East Anglia managing director Andrew Chivers said he was "extremely disappointed" that Aslef rejected the pay offer. He said it amounted to a salary increase of at least 4% within a year.

"Even though our offer has been accepted by the RMT and TSSA unions by over 80 per cent votes in their ballots, Aslef is planning to cause further unnecessary and totally unjustified disruption to our customers who have already suffered enough through the earlier series of strikes. We will be asking Aslef for urgent talks to avert any further strike action," he added.

* Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at First Capital Connect will walk out on Monday, 14 September, in support of a campaign to reinstate a sacked colleague. The union said Rachel Lock was the victim of an assault by a member of the public angry at being challenged over a ticket.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "With the train companies turning up the pressure for more and harsher penalty fares they are putting more and more staff at the risk of assault of the kind suffered by Rachel Lock.

"It's a scandal that, instead of supporting their member of staff in this traumatic situation, they have chosen instead to sack her."

The company said it would run a "near normal" service despite the strike, adding: "This is an unnecessary strike over the dismissal of an employee for gross misconduct. The incident was seen by several credible witnesses including an off duty police officer."

* London Midland has told union officials they will reintroduce terms for weekend working which had been in place before last Sunday, when most services were cancelled because of staff shortages, according to Aslef.

Thousands of rail passengers suffered delays and disruptions to their journeys after the company cancelled all its trains on Sunday except those on the Birmingham to Liverpool line.

London Midland, which operates more than 1,200 services a day to 149 stations, was criticised after revealing its drivers usually worked on a voluntary basis on Sundays and not enough staff volunteered to work last weekend.

The company said an agreement to increase overtime pay on Sundays from time and two thirds to double pay ended on August 30.

Talks were held today between the company and union officials to avoid a repeat of the chaos this weekend.