Rail workers to ballot for strike action

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Rail workers at a National Express train company are to be balloted for industrial action in a row over pay and working conditions, it was announced today.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said its members at the firm's East Anglia franchise will be asked whether they want to launch a campaign of strikes after accusing the company of failing to make any significant offer on pay.

The union called on the Government to take urgent action over the "crisis" in rail franchising following the Government's decision to renationalise National Express's East Coast business.

General secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT are in no doubt that the failure to make any kind of meaningful pay offer to staff on National Express East Anglia is all about the company trying to milk the franchises that they have left and to make their staff pay for a crisis which was cooked up in the boardroom by senior managers who have now jumped ship."

The RMT said Government ministers had made it clear to the union that if National Express defaulted on the East Coast they would be stripped of their c2c and East Anglia franchises.

"We are calling on the government to stand firm, to get this company off our tracks and to seize the opportunity to begin a long-term programme of renationalising the railways," said Mr Crow.

Simon Weller, national organiser of the train drivers union Aslef, attacked the Government's rail policies in an article published by campaign group Progressive London.

"National Express's decision to hand back the keys, saddling the taxpayer with tens of millions of pounds of losses, is further evidence of the limitations of New Labour's rail policy which has sought to merely manage the structure and ownership of the privatised railways rather than address the blatant failures of the system which are now coming home to roost.

"That the company can walk away from a pledge to pay £1.4 billion by 2015 with losses of £72 million illustrates how weighted these contracts are in the private sector's favour and represent a staggering flaw in the system."