Livingstone accused of secret deal to avert Tube strike

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone was yesterday accused of offering a "private deal" to the main Tube workers' union to call off a 24-hour strike scheduled for next Thursday - the day he hopes to be re-elected as London Mayor.

Ken Livingstone was yesterday accused of offering a "private deal" to the main Tube workers' union to call off a 24-hour strike scheduled for next Thursday - the day he hopes to be re-elected as London Mayor.

Simon Hughes, his Liberal Democrat rival, said that he suspected the decision to suspend the stoppage, by the RMT transport union and its leader Bob Crow, was prompted by hidden incentives "to save Ken Livingstone's election campaign".

In the teeth of a denial by the Mayor, Mr Hughes said: "There are serious question to be asked about what carrots were offered by Transport for London to persuade Bob Crow and the RMT to postpone their strike threat until after the election.

"Londoners will want to know what costs the capital will have to face if a private deal has been done in an attempt to save Ken Livingstone's election campaign.

"It will be a welcome relief for Londoners that next week will not be disrupted by a Tube strike but cold comfort that the threat has been suspended and not resolved. The public are entitled to expect industrial disputes in the public service to be settled by negotiation and not confrontation."

Mr Hughes said he would remove Mr Crow from the board of Transport for London if he became mayor next week.

Mr Livingstone, who was active behind the scenes in trying to reach a settlement, was adamant that no secret concessions had been offered. The Mayor's aides argued that the only incentive on offer was the prospect of negotiations on a long-term deal.

Mr Livingstone said he supported the stance taken yesterday by Tim O'Toole, the managing director of London Underground. "Negotiations are the way forward for resolving all of the issues under discussion," he said

Mr Livingstone accused Mr Hughes and Steve Norris, the Conservative candidate, of "playing politics" with the Tube.

The Tory candidate said that he was pleased with the RMT decision and it proved the need to have a no-strike agreement. "As Mayor, I won't be blackmailed by the unions," he said.

A spokesman for London Underground said yesterday: "We look forward to negotiating a long-term agreement that is in the best interests of London, the travelling public and Tube staff."

* Hopes rose yesterday of a deal to avert what would be the first national rail strike in a decade. The infrastructure company, Network Rail, tabled a revised pay offer during "very constructive" talks with union leaders.

The company will write to the RMT transport union in the next few days, detailing a new offer to its signal workers. Talks covering the pay of maintenance staff will be held today.

The union is seeking an improvement on a 3 per cent pay offer and wants better travel concessions for employees. It is also protesting at the closure of the company's final salary pension scheme for new entrants.

Employees' representatives have warned that strikes on the railways and London Underground could be co-ordinated.



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