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According to the union, the Office of Rail Regulation warned the rail firm that its inspection regime was "seriously out of date" and "did not meet the requirements of the standard for such matters" in these areas.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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Technicians - Prestige Brand

£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A passionate and experienced Head Chef i...

Recruitment Genius: Class 2 Drivers

£31700 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist wholesaler owned and man...

Recruitment Genius: Laser and Router Operative

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Laser and Router Operative is...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones