'Slanging match' ends hopes of deal to stop Tube strike

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of thousands of commuters are facing serious disruption on the Tube today as station staff stage their second 24-hour walkout in a week. Hopes of a resolution to the dispute were dashed yesterday when a slanging match erupted between management at London Underground and the RMT rail union who accused each other of lying about the cause of the dispute.

Union leaders warned of fresh stoppages and called for a fresh ballot on industrial action, short of strikes, among all employees on the Underground. Employees' representatives said action such as a work-to-rule could bring the network to a halt before the end of the month.

At the heart of the conflict is the introduction of new rosters following an agreement over a 35-hour week a year ago. The RMT says management is using it as an excuse to make up to 800 workers redundant, and that the new arrangements will make stations unsafe.

London Underground insists that no jobs will be lost and that all new working methods are being "safety validated".

Claims that an internal rift on Friday between human resources managers and their colleagues in the operating division had prevented an agreement, were described as "complete rubbish" by London Underground. A management spokesman said: "They can't justify the strike, so they are having to make untrue statements."

Management suggestions that new rosters had been agreed at 90 per cent of stations were also "rubbish", according to a union spokesman. There had been deals at some stations, but many of them were now falling apart as management "keep moving the goalposts".

The RMT official said that after talks at Congress House, TUC headquarters, on Friday, the union thought it would be able to suspend the second strike, which began at 6.30pm last night, but a tentative deal had been withdrawn. Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said: "It is bitterly disappointing that an agreement has fallen foul of an internal row.

London Underground said it would attempt to run the best possible service, but advised passengers to plan their journeys in advance, and to check the latest information. Management claimed that during the first 24-hour walkout on New Year's Eve, only 31 of 275 stations were closed, and trains continued to run.

Mike Brown, chief operating officer at London Underground, said: "A year ago a deal was reached that was hailed by both sides. London Underground is sticking to that agreement.

"This strike is completely unnecessary: all this strike will do is disrupt Londoners to one degree or another, and lose those who take part another day's pay.

Management sources said the dispute was triggered by problems at a small number of stations on the Piccadilly line, which led to industrial action elsewhere.

London Underground said the new working arrangements would take staff out of ticket offices and put them on platforms: fewer employees were needed to issue tickets because of the new pre-paid Oyster cards.

Management insists the new arrangements would not be imposed without proper agreement.

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