Rail union faces legal battle over strike ballot

Leaders of the union behind next week's threatened rail strike will attend court to explain how signalmen purporting to work in a signal box that burnt to the ground a year ago were able to cast their votes in a strike ballot.

Network Rail claims to have uncovered enough discrepancies in the returns submitted by the RMT union to cast doubt on whether a majority of the staff involved genuinely support the decision to strike. Their lawyers are hoping to repeat the success achieved by British Airways' legal team, which secured a court order that forced the Unite union to cancel a strike by cabin crew scheduled to take place at Christmas.

The RMT has called a four-day strike starting on Tuesday next week in a dispute over proposed job cuts. The timing is a nightmare for Gordon Brown, who is expected to go to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday to tell the Queen he is calling the general election.

The ballot, carried out earlier this month, produced a 1,705 to 1,481 majority in favour of a strike after a turnout of more than 70 per cent. But Network Rail claims the discrepancies they have uncovered could affect as many as 300 votes. They say some votes were recorded as being cast by staff operating 11 signal boxes which have been closed for years, including one near Gloucester that has been abandoned since 1965 and another, in Newport, which burnt down in April 2009. The company also claims that in 67 locations the number of votes recorded was greater than the workforce, allegedly including 11 votes recorded in South Tottenham, in London, where Network Rail has only three staff. They also claim that 33 votes were cast in Crewe, where they have only 24 employees.

They also allege that 26 workplaces – such as the Rugby signal box which employs 100 staff – were not balloted at all, while 12 others were balloted despite the staff being ineligible to vote.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said: "We believe we have uncovered scores of inaccuracies and discrepancies in the RMT's signallers ballot that in our view, makes it invalid."

Each of the claims will be fiercely contested by the RMT. The union's general secretary, Bob Crow, described the legal challenge yesterday as a "scandalous attempt" to use the courts to overrule a democratic vote. "RMT is putting together an experienced legal team ... and we will be mounting the most robust defence possible in the High Court against this attack by Network Rail on our internal democracy," he said.

The rail companies are putting together a provisional timetable for the four day strike, which should be available online by lunchtime today. The worst affected sections will be the commuter routes and rural lines, which have a large number of signal boxes and level crossings.

Maintenance staff from the Transport Salaried Staffs Association are also planning a strike over Network Rail's plans to cut 1,500 jobs, but the company says the action will not affect services. A threatened strike by British Gas engineers has been lifted after "positive discussions" in a row over claims of management bullying, the GMB union said yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower