MPs' pay rise angers rail union leaders

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UNION leaders of striking signal staff, whose pay dispute will severely disrupt the railway network again this week, last night denounced plans to increase the pay of MPs by double the rate of inflation, writes Paul Routledge.

MPs are to receive a 4.6 per cent pay rise from 1 January, boosting their basic pay by more than pounds 1,300 a year to pounds 33,000. The Government is continuing to block a wage increase for signal workers whose minimum rates are a fraction of those enjoyed by legislators.

Treasury officials last night confirmed that the parliamentary pay deal, in two parts, will be brought into operation automatically under a deal restoring MPs' pay to a fixed point in civil service ranks.

The agreement will give rises of 2.6 per cent, which should have been paid last year, but were deferred under pressure from the Cabinet, plus 2 per cent currently under offer to middle managers in the Civil Service.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said the package was 'another example of Conservative double standards - one law for them and a different one for the rest of us.

'This deal will certainly leave signal grades angry, and more determined than ever to get a just settlement for their overwhelmingly justified claim. Signal staffs have given a tremendous amount. One-third of them have gone. Their productivity has gone up by 47 per cent. Which MP can put his hand on his heart and say the same?'

The signal dispute goes into its 12th week tomorrow, with a strike starting at noon on Tuesday and continuing for two days. Another 24-hour walk-out has been called for Thursday next week, when the Trades Union Congress in Blackpool will debate transport issues. Tony Blair, whose salary as Leader of the Opposition will rise by pounds 3,000 to pounds 64,000 a year, is to pay a private visit to the conference for talks with union leaders.

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