Rail services face disruption: One-day strike could be first of many, Knapp says

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TRAVELLERS face severe disruption next week when rail workers mount a 24-hour strike in protest at the threat of compulsory redundancies.

Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT rail union, said yesterday it was 'possible' that the 2 April stoppage would constitute the first of many 24-hour strikes unless British Rail guaranteed there would be no compulsory redundancies. Management has agreed to meet the union today to try to resolve the dispute.

In a 64 per cent turn-out, members of the RMT voted by 26,000 to 16,000 to take industrial action. Announcing the result, Mr Knapp demanded that management stop employing contractors to perform work which redundant staff could undertake. The RMT leader also registered his anger over the way a selective redundancy scheme was introduced. 'This ballot was a vote about jobs. Jobs today are just as important as jobs in the future. The message from railway staff is clear - enough is enough.'

By the end of the month, 7,000 employees will have left BR in the last six months, and the Independent reported recently that it wants to shed another 4,000 by the end of September. The union fears 20,000 jobs are at risk.

Sir Bob Reid, BR chairman, said: 'I am hopeful that we will be able to avoid industrial action. We will be making a very strong plea to them. It is very important going into Easter that disruption does not take place. It would be very unhelpful.'

British Rail played down the significance of the margin for action. Less than 40 per cent of RMT members had registered their readiness to walk out, a spokesman said. 'This result reflects the real reservations of railway staff towards calls for industrial action. The union must acknowledge that this is not a mandate for anything and pull back from any action that they are contemplating.'

Leaders of 6,500 salaried staff at Ford last night threatened a 24-strike on Thursday to coincide with the launch of the company's middle-range fleet car, the Mondeo. The white-collar union MSF said management were only 88 short of their target to make 2,200 staff redundant, but were still offering no guarantee over compulsory redundancies. Management and unions are due to meet today.