Labour backs signal staff as talks restart

FRANK DOBSON, Labour's transport spokesman, yesterday gave the party's firm backing to the railway signal workers in their dispute with Railtrack. Early this morning, talks in London aimed at averting a third one-day strike set for tomorrow were adjourned. They are due to continue at 10am.

Railtrack entered the talks yesterday afternoon at the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service declaring its intention to negotiate over a package introducing new efficiency measures presented last Monday to employees' negotiators.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is seeking compensation for productivity improvements achieved over the past six years. The management offer will increase the average earnings of signal box personnel by pounds 4 a week according to the union. But management claims that 75 per cent of their staff will enjoy considerable rises. Speaking to the RMT union's Liverpool conference, Mr Dobson also underlined Labour's pledge to return the railways to public ownership. On the dispute, he said:

The Government's pay policy, as set out in September by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, accepted pay increases offset by improved productivity;

Signalling staff had 'massively' improved their productivity but had not been rewarded as promised. Therefore, increased pay for them would not break the Government's pay policy or be inflationary;

Signal workers had been 'swindled and lied to';

The Government should allow Railtrack management and the RMT to settle the dispute;

Ministers should find the money for the settlement from the pounds 500m they were 'squandering' on rail privatisation.

Mr Dobson added: 'The Government has been demanding that Labour should condemn the strike. We refuse to condemn it. Workers who are being swindled out of their wages have a fundamental human right to withdraw their labour.'