Talks resume in bid to avoid rail strike

Talks aimed at resolving a row over plans to cut 1,500 railway maintenance jobs will resume today in a bid to avert a strike over Easter.

Maintenance, signalling and other workers backed a campaign of industrial action and dates for strikes could be set tomorrow unless there is progress during the talks between the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), the Rail Maritime and Transport union and Network Rail under the chairmanship of the conciliation service Acas.

A row over rail safety flared yesterday after the TSSA said it had been leaked documents showing that Network Rail was in breach of health and safety legislation over bridge inspections in Kent, Anglia and Wessex.

According to the union, the Office of Rail Regulation warned the rail firm that its inspection regime was "seriously out of date" and "did not meet the requirements of the standard for such matters" in these areas.

They served an improvement notice on the company giving it until March 31 to ensure that the "current backlog of inspections" is carried out and "that an effective monitoring regime is put in place for visual inspections to ensure that they are carried out to the required standard and within the appropriate timescale", said the TSSA.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "We would never compromise on safety. Such accusations are simply wrong. It's disappointing to see one of the unions we hope to have meaningful discussions with today grandstanding in this way."

A spokesman for the Office of Rail Regulation said: "The Office of Rail Regulation's frontline inspectors check railway safety arrangements across the GB rail network all year round, through a risk-based programme of targeted inspections.

"The improvement notice was served on Network Rail as part of this proactive programme. It directs the company to address a backlog in detailed inspections of bridges and other structures, to improve the quality and timeliness of its visual inspection regime, and to put in place an effective process for acting on the matters raised in such inspections in Kent, Anglia and Wessex.

"The structures inspections are all undertaken by a contractor, not the directly-employed maintenance workforce. Our inspectors will closely monitor Network Rail to ensure that appropriate action is taken."

TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: "These documents support what we have been saying all through this dispute. Network Rail is lowering safety standards on the network by cutting jobs and workloads in a money saving exercise."

Talks over the signallers' dispute were adjourned last night and will resume today before the RMT executive convenes tomorrow to decide its next move.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT remains committed to reaching a negotiated settlement that protects safety-critical jobs and safe staffing levels across the rail network and which puts the safety and security of the travelling public above the drive to hit financial cuts targets."

The RMT said the new safety row gave further evidence that the job cuts had already gone too far and were already compromising public safety before the impact of axing 1,500 further staff was felt.

Mr Crow said: "There is growing evidence across the country that Network Rail's cuts programme is already hitting the critical safety inspection regime hard and this reinforces our case that the company should now pull back from the brink before lethal damage is done.

"There is already a shortage of staff and to be axing maintenance posts and lumping extra work on to signallers under these circumstances is a reckless gamble with rail safety."

NR said the signallers' main issue was around rosters as the company pressed to move around 50 staff to a new four day a week roster.

Strikes by signal workers would cripple the rail network immediately, while NR believes it would take several days of action by maintenance workers to have an impact on train services.

An NR spokesman said: "Network Rail is pleased that the unions are continuing to talk with us on maintenance issues.

"Separately, we continue to talk with representatives of our signallers.

"We hope these talks will continue in a positive way so we can avoid unnecessary and damaging industrial action. A strike will not help union members or passengers and will hurt Britain's economy as we edge into recovery."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine