Leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union have decided to suspend industrial action until the ballot result is known on 14 May. If the 67,000 members turn down the proposals, a further series of 24-hour strikes is likely. BR is to embark on a propaganda campaign in an attempt to ensure backing for its proposals.
The decision came yesterday after an acrimonious meeting of the union's executive on Wednesday found itself in disarray over management's proposals. While the leadership rejected BR's assurances over job security, the executive could not secure the two-thirds majority required to order a day-long stoppage next week.
Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, said the one-page peace formula did not meet the union's objectives. He said: 'The board's position has shifted since the dispute started but the assurances we are seeking on compulsory redundancy and on the use of contractors have still not been made with the conviction we want.'
The management's 'last position' according to both British Rail and John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, was contained in the document.
In an attempt to avert a third 24-hour strike, BR confirmed that it did not foresee the need for compulsory redundancies over the next couple of years. The railways board also insisted that there were no plans for a 'major extension' to the use of contractors for track maintenance over the next couple of years.
Mr Knapp said the ballot, which will be run by the Electoral Reform Society, would put an end to the uncertainty. In the meantime, no further strikes would be called. He said he believed the public would appreciate the way the union was handling the dispute and said: 'The voice of our members will tell us the way forward.'
Paul Watkinson, BR's personnel director, accused the leadership of the union of 'abdicating responsibility'. It meant that great uncertainty still hung over the railway industry.
'They are rejecting a perfectly reasonable position and they seem to be asking their members to make up their minds before the ballot is held by recommending rejection.' Mr Watkinson said the union was putting its members' jobs at risk.