Thousands of Network Rail maintenance workers have voted strongly in favour of strikes in a row over jobs, bringing the threat of industrial action over Easter closer, it was announced today.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union said 77% of its members who took part in the ballot backed strikes, with 89% supporting action short of a strike.
There was a 65% turnout in the ballot, called in protest at plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT members were faced with a stark choice in this ballot. They could either sit back and wait for these cash-led maintenance cuts to lead to another major disaster on Britain's railways or they could vote to take action to stop the attack on rail safety. They have overwhelmingly voted to take action.
"Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win this dispute and to stop this reckless gamble with rail safety. Nearly 150 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion opposing Network Rail's cuts plans and have urged the Government to intervene to call a halt to this jobs carnage on the tracks.
"RMT is in no doubt that the cuts programme drawn up by Network Rail would drag us back to the dark days of Railtrack and would make another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg disaster an inevitability. That is what this dispute is all about and even the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has had to concede that the botched attempt to bulldoze through these cuts has raised serious safety concerns.
"RMT remains available for talks with Network Rail and we would hope that in light of the overwhelming mandate for action delivered by our members today that the chairman will respond to our request for meaningful discussions aimed at ensuring that the staffing levels required to deliver a safe rail system are maintained."
The RMT executive will discuss its next move in the dispute next Friday, March 19, on the same day that a strike vote among NR signal workers in the same dispute is announced.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced today that 1,600 of its members, including electrical controllers in charge of supplying power to the tracks, would vote in the coming weeks on whether to strike over a 0.8% pay offer.
The union will announce tomorrow the result of a ballot among 2,000 of its NR members, including supervisors, in the job cuts row.
TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: "Network Rail is stumbling into a dispute by its high-handed approach to its workforce.
"Bosses are quick to award themselves bonuses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds every year and then they turn around and ask their employees to take an effective pay cut with an insulting offer well below inflation."
The two unions will stage a demonstration outside NR's London headquarters tomorrow.
NR said this week it had contingency plans to deal with any strikes over Easter and maintained that the vast majority of job cuts would be achieved through voluntary redundancy.
The firm said it needed to change working practices so that more maintenance staff worked at weekends to make repairs and maintenance more efficient.
An NR spokesman said: "The way the railway is maintained and operated needs to change. Work practices that date back to the steam age should no longer have a place on a modern railway. We all have a duty to get best value for the British people whilst running a safe, reliable and efficient rail network.
"We cannot allow the unions to hold this country to ransom. Negotiation is the only way this dispute will be settled, and the sooner we get around the table the better for everyone.
"There is still time for the RMT to come to its senses and resolve this dispute in a responsible manner. Our contingency plans to manage any industrial action are at an advanced stage and we will do all we can to minimise any disruption."Reuse content