Rail union halts industrial action: Train drivers' deal puts pressure on RMT

THE BIGGEST rail union last night suspended industrial action after train drivers' leaders agreed a peace formula to end a campaign of 24-hour strikes.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union will be under increased pressure to settle its own dispute in talks expected today, following the deal agreed by the 16,000-strong Aslef. Drivers' leaders accepted assurances from British Rail over new employment conditions for seven 'shadow franchises' to be created in the run- up to privatisation.

An executive meeting of the RMT said it would now 'test the faith' of management and agreed to negotiate with BR. In a letter to Paul Watkinson, BR's personnel director, Jimmy Knapp, the RMT general secretary, warned that further day-long stoppages would be called if management did not respond to the gesture.

The 67,000-strong RMT may abandon its policy of Friday strikes and switch to Wednesday or Thursday, which could impair public support but would lead to increased disruption. Unless there is a deal, more industrial action is likely next week.

The RMT executive took several hours to agree to suspend the strikes as left-wingers argued that the union should name the next day of action to concentrate the minds of management.

Mr Knapp told a press conference at the union's headquarters last night that the dispute could only be solved through negotiation. The union's representatives would be available for 'intensive discussions' with a view to reaching a deal. He said he was prepared to set aside the whole of this week to reach an agreement.

Mr Watkinson said the agreement with Aslef was welcome to passengers and freight customers. 'The settlement was achieved not by last Friday's strike - which was damaging and pointless - but by the two sides working out the best solution . . . in an atmosphere of mutual goodwill.'

Mr Watkinson said that both management and the train drivers' union had showed a willingness to be flexible that had not been a feature of RMT's position. Aslef accepted detailed assurances that BR would honour existing agreements and that drivers would remain BR employees until privatisation. Aslef accepts that BR has no jurisdiction thereafter.

In a letter to the RMT yesterday, Mr Watkinson said that management had shown considerable flexibility in trying to find 'words and phrases' to reassure the union.

RMT is unlikely to call a stoppage this week, but may call a strike in the middle of next week.