Informal rail talks find no solutions: Eighth strike set to go ahead

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The Independent Online
HOPES of an early end to the rail dispute disappeared last night as three days of informal talks failed to find sufficient common ground to get both sides back into joint negotiations.

The search for an agreement appeared to be little further forward than when the RMT transport union staged its first 24-hour stoppage seven weeks ago. No substantive discussions are planned over the weekend, which leaves little time to reach agreement before the eighth signal workers' strike begins at noon next Wednesday.

Officials at the conciliation service Acas have advised Railtrack and the RMT transport union to reflect on their positions over the next few days with a view to further contact on Monday.

After a day of informal discussion between Acas and the RMT team, Jimmy Knapp, the union's general secretary, said: 'I am disappointed that it has taken such a long time to get nowhere.'

Informal contacts followed a declaration by Dr Brian Mawhinney, the new Secretary of State for Transport, that 'all the elements' existed to reach agreement. The two sides have not met since 12 July when 13 hours of talks at the Acas London HQ ended in deadlock. The point at issue remains the union's demand for an 'upfront' payment for past productivity and the company's insistence on agreement to fresh efficiency measures.

One Railtrack source said that every effort would be made to avoid next week's disruption, but that it was more important to see an end to the whole dispute rather than go into negotiations with little hope of a deal.

The RMT yesterday expressed confidence that 500 supervisors, who are presently helping the company to provide services on strike days, would also vote for industrial action. The result of their strike ballot is due next Thursday. After the statutory seven days' notice it would allow the supervisors to take action with their subordinates at the end of the following week. The RMT plans a 48- hour strike in the week beginning 7 August.

Management said yesterday it had no plans to take legal action against them. The union argues that the supervisors would not be taking unlawful secondary action because their pay was directly related to that of signal staff.

Mounted police clashed with more than 1,000 demonstrators outside the High Court in Manchester yesterday as two union officials were fined for encouraging an unlawful strike. Three people were injured during the protest as two officials of the Unison public service union were each ordered to pay pounds 1,250.

Their union in Sefton on Merseyside - which had not supported the strike in protest at the privatisation of services - was also fined pounds 5,000.

The court ordered Unison to pay three-quarters of the estimated pounds 15,000 court costs and for the two men to find the rest.