Drivers' dispute threatens millennium train services

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The Independent Online

Connex, the rail company that runs services between London and counties to the south and east, says it may cancel services on Millennium Eve. The announcement yesterday followed disruption to commuter services as drivers refused to work on rest days as part of an industrial dispute.

Connex, the rail company that runs services between London and counties to the south and east, says it may cancel services on Millennium Eve. The announcement yesterday followed disruption to commuter services as drivers refused to work on rest days as part of an industrial dispute.

Connex had already published the times it would be transporting New Year revellers to and from London on trains driven by workers being paid a special £1,000 bonus for volunteering to work on 31 December 31 and 1 January.

A spokesman for Connex said: "If drivers follow the union's call not to work on a voluntary overtime basis, then clearly we are not in a position to guarantee those services. We cannot advertise services and then strand people, with the possibility that we can't get them home. We would therefore have to withdraw those services. If we do, then each driver stands to lose £1,000."

The company, which employs about 380 drivers, could not say how many of its drivers had to work on rest days. A spokesman said the company was reducing its dependence on rest-day working, but conceded it had not set a target to employ enough drivers to eradicate the practice.

Yesterday a number of trains were affected by long delays and cancellations in network areas covered by the Connex franchise. Services from Horsham in Sussex and Redhill, Surrey, suffered particularly badly from disruption. The position was made worse by train cancellations and points failures, which were blamed on the cold weather.

The drivers' union, Aslef, told Connex that the action was being taken because of the lack of progress in talks aimed at cutting drivers' hours from 39 to 35 a week, and making improvements to pensions.

A spokesman said the union has a separate agreement with Connex for working over the millennium weekend, which should not be affected by the dispute over hours.

Connex had announced that it planned to run trains up until 10pm on Friday, New Year's Eve, and then to resume services from 1am on New Year's Day until 4am.

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