Rail unions warn over safety levels during strikes

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The Independent Online

Safety chiefs were accused last night of deliberately ignoring the standard of training given to managers helping to break a strike on Britain's busiest commuter route.

Safety chiefs were accused last night of deliberately ignoring the standard of training given to managers helping to break a strike on Britain's busiest commuter route.

Mick Rix, leader of Aslef, the train drivers' union, told the Health and Safety Executive: "Whenever there is a dispute in the railway industry, HMRI [Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate] seems more than willing to turn a blind eye to the poor standard of training of personnel used to beat a dispute."

Management claims that it would do nothing to undermine safety. The executive said that while it had only scrutinised documents from the company so far, there would also be "spot checks".

Sources at the white-collar rail union said it had received no complaints from its members about being forced to undertake the work of guards.

SWT's managing director, Andrew Haines, registered "delight" that managers and other administrative staff had been prepared "to go the extra mile" to keep services running. "If we worked together like this every day, we would have the best railway in the world," he said.

The company ran 600 out of its usual 1,700 trains, many of which run into London's Waterloo station, and laid on more than 100 buses and coaches to replace cancelled services. Around 35,000 commuters passed through the station during peak hours, but thousands still suffered long delays and overcrowding.

Mr Haines said the company had 100 more managers available to help to run services if the next round of strikes goes ahead as threatened on 12 and 13 February.

The union is seeking an improved pay deal and protesting about disciplinary action against one of its activists. The stoppages come amid growing unrest elsewhere, with employees at ScotRail, Arriva Trains Northern, Silverlink, Connex, London Underground and Docklands Light Railway either taking or threatening industrial action.

* The leader of Britain's biggest civil service unionwarnedcolleagues against the industrial action that yesterday led to walkouts by thousands of staff at new-style job centres. In a confidential memorandum sent at the start of the conflict in October, Barry Reamsbottom, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), told strike leaders that backing among members was "worryingly low".

Mr Reamsbottom steps down in June, and his letter betrays a deep split between him and his successor, Mark Serwotka, who is backing the dispute.

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