Talks bid to avert Easter rail strike

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The Independent Online

Talks aimed at averting strikes by railway signal workers are to be held next week, raising hopes that action can be averted, it was announced tonight.

The conciliation service Acas said Network Rail and the Rail Maritime and Transport union had both accepted an invitation to meet.

The development followed an announcement by the union that its members had voted by 54% in favour of strikes and 77% for action short of a strike in a bitter row over plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs.

Maintenance workers belonging to the RMT have already voted to go on strike in protest at the job losses.

Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association have also voted in favour of industrial action, threatening the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest on the railways for more than a decade.

The peace talks will be held early next week and will also involve the TSSA union.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Once again in this ballot RMT members have shown that they back the union's campaign against Network Rail's cuts programme and the assault on jobs and working conditions that even the Government's own regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation, has said will have severe safety implications out on the tracks."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "This would be the first national strike for 16 years and if it goes ahead it will exasperate passengers."

Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said: "The RMT must be disappointed with the weakness of the result with little more than a third of those balloted voting to strike.

"Contingency planning is well under way in the event that there is a strike but we urge the union to get back round the negotiating table and talk to us about the real issues, and stop trying to hold the country to ransom."