Union calls more rail strikes

Strike-bound rail company imposes pay rise
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The Independent Online

The main rail union this afternoon called another series of strikes which will paralyse services in the north and from the south-west into London.

After South West Trains announced that it is to impose a 7.6 per cent pay increase on 3,000 staff in a bid to break a deadlocked dispute, which has crippled its services, the Rail Maritime and Transport union called another 48 hour strike for 24 and 25 January.

At the same meeting this afternoon, union leaders also called its members at Arriva Trains Northern in the north-west out on two 48-strikes. The stoppages will be held on 24 and 25 January and 5 and 6 February.

The surprise move by South West Trains came as the second day of a 48–hour strike by members of the RMT continued to cause severe disruption to services across the South East and into London's Waterloo Station.

SWT said it had decided to take the initiative because negotiations were not leading to a settlement and the strike was disrupting hundreds of thousands of passengers.

The RMT executive was meeting later today and was expected to call further strikes with one official warning of an indefinite walkout.

A statement by the company said: "After exhaustive talks and four damaging strike days South West Trains has decided to take the initiative by giving its staff a 7.6 per cent pay increase.

"Negotiations with the RMT were not leading to a settlement and the strikes have disrupted hundreds of thousands of passengers.

"Everyone is adamant that this stalemate cannot continue and so we have decided to conclude the 2001 pay negotiations by giving all relevant grades a 4% award backdated to April, a further 3.6% to follow from this April and another pay review in October this year."

SWT managing director Andrew Haines said: "The recent strikes have been a damaging and painful experience for our passengers, our employees and our company.

"It is vital that we now move forward and find a way to build the trust between us.

"For all our sakes we have decided to take a positive step and give our staff a pay increase worth 7.6% over 18 months.

"We recognise that this will not be all that everyone wanted but it is, we believe, the best increase in the country and it also gives our employees much of what they said was important to them.

"Finally it has the benefit of giving us all a further opportunity later this year to discuss some of our employees' longer term goals."

The increase will be paid to around 3,000 SWT workers and the company said it hoped the move would help draw a line under the damaging dispute.

The announcement was made as SWT rail users continued to suffer travel misery with only around 15 per cent of services running because of the strike, which ends at midnight.

Special buses were again laid on for commuters and other travellers but many people spent hours struggling to get to work.

Meanwhile Transport Secretary Stephen Byers refused to intervene in the rail disputes but said he understood the anger and frustration of rail users.

He urged both sides to resume negotiations and insisted he retained confidence of the Prime Minister.

A ScotRail spokesman later said services in the central belt were running in tandem with the emergency timetable introduced yesterday.

The spokesman said: "The services are running well and passengers are understanding of the changes.

"Nobody is happy with a loss in the number of services but passengers are happy with the reliability.

"Barring mechanical failure the passengers know the trains are going to turn up and they appreciate that."

Talks between the train operator, Aslef and RMT are scheduled to take place in Glasgow on Thursday. The RMT warned industrial action could follow if a new pay deal for ScotRail drivers is not offered to all its 3,000 staff when their salaries are reviewed later in the year.

Phil McGarry, Scottish regional secretary of the RMT, said: "Other grades will be looking for no less favourable arrangements.

"The next review date for conductors and station staff is April 1 and we can't rule out the possibility of industrial action. But it is the members themselves who will have to decide their own destiny. For example if drivers get a hike of £5,000 we will be looking for a pro rata increase for conductors."

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