Judge halts rail strike

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The Independent Online

The threat of a crippling rail strike after Easter was averted today after a judge granted an injunction preventing the action by signal workers going ahead.

Network Rail, the Government and passenger groups all welcomed the decision in the High Court to halt four days of strike action planned from next Tuesday.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union angrily attacked the move and later announced it would re-ballot thousands of signal workers for industrial action which could be held just before the general election.

The union also announced that a planned four-day strike by thousands of maintenance workers planned from next Tuesday had been suspended and a fresh ballot will be held in light of the court decision affecting the signallers.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that the dispute with Network Rail was "by no means over", adding: "They have won round one but this is a 15-round heavyweight contest.

"Today's court judgment was a highly political decision which ratchets up the power of employers to undermine legitimate trade union activity."

Judge Mrs Justice Sharp made an interim order against the RMT at the High Court after being told by NR's QC that "unlawful" strike action would cause "immense damage to the economy".

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association announced tonight it would be re-balloting its members for industrial action following the court's decision.

The two unions had planned four days of strikes in protest at 1,500 maintenance job cuts and changes to signallers' terms and conditions.

Robin Gisby, director of operations at Network Rail, said: "The signallers' strike is off and train services next week will run as normal.

"This is good news for the millions of passengers who rely on us every day, for our freight users and for the country.

"A dispute with the unions remains, however, and we have a responsibility to our people to continue talking to the unions to find a settlement that works for us all."

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: "It is now vital that the two sides in this dispute get back round the table as soon as possible to negotiate a settlement and I call on them to do so."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "It's becoming increasingly easy for employers, unhappy at the prospect of a dispute, to rely on the courts to intervene and nullify a democratic ballot for industrial action on a mere technicality."

Rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus said: "Three-and-a-half million passengers have been living in limbo and now at least know where they stand after days of uncertainty. Those that have already changed their plans and incurred costs will be angry."

NR had accused the union of failing to comply with the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992 in the ballot, which showed a 54% majority in favour of strikes.

At the end of a judgment lasting more than an hour-and-a-half, the judge said she had come to "a very clear conclusion" that the interim injunction should be granted.

TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: "We had always intended to execute this dispute standing shoulder to shoulder with our sister union the RMT.

"Therefore in light of the High Court decision today in relation to the signal workers' strike, and the blank refusal of Network Rail to extend the timescale to allow negotiations to continue in respect of the maintenance workers dispute, we have decided that in the interests of maintaining trade union unity on the matter, the best way forward is to cancel next week's action and re-ballot all of our members.

"We remain committed to reaching a negotiated settlement to the issues in dispute but Network Rail's use of the blatantly partisan trade union laws to thwart the democratic will of workers will not have made resolution of the differences between us any easier."