Rail union leader vows to cause 'maximum disruption'

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The Independent Online

Members of the rail network's biggest union would cause "maximum disruption" in nationwide strikes which could start next month, its hard-left leader said yesterday.

Members of the rail network's biggest union would cause "maximum disruption" in nationwide strikes which could start next month, its hard-left leader said yesterday.

In an interview with The Independent, Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, predicted that his 7,000 members at the infrastructure organisation Network Rail would give a clear mandate for industrial action in a ballot scheduled to begin this week.

Mr Crow revealed he would be recommending to his senior colleagues a campaign of action which could include walkouts lasting six hours to strikes aimed at causing chaos during three-day periods.

The stoppages would involve track workers and stations staff, but the RMT leader described signallers and technicians as the union's cutting edge. Without signallers trains cannot operate, and if skilled workers walk out vital maintenance is delayed.

Employees at Network Rail are angry over management's 3 per cent pay offer, which they describe as the lowest increase proposed in the industry. And the union is protesting over the organisation's imposition of an "inferior" pension scheme for new recruits.

Those joining the organisation after 1 April this year will be forced into a "money purchase" fund, where there is no guaranteed level of retirement income. Other staff will remain on a "final salary" scheme.

Another bone of contention is the company's refusal to offer travel concessions to its workers. Those employed before 1 April 1996 enjoy an unlimited 75 per cent discount on rail fares, and between 10 and 20 free trips a year. Staff who joined after that date get nothing.

Mr Crow said: "Management is simply refusing to negotiate over inequalities in the industry ... Any action we will take will be aimed at causing the maximum disruption. Our job is to represent working people."

He said there could be six- and 12-hour stoppages, 24-hour strikes on alternate days or 48 hours of action beginning and ending at noon, and causing disruption over three days. He denied that the threat of industrial action was aimed at forcing the re-nationalisation of the industry. "We are concerned about purely industrial issues," he said.

The normally moderate white-collar union TSSA is also threatening disruption, arguing that management's offer is "divisive and derisory".

Network Rail denied there had been a breakdown of talks, as claimed by the RMT. The company was ready to negotiate and urged the union to continue "constructive talks".

Interview, page 29

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