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Railtrack aims to split signal staff: Union says offer insufficient and attacks government interference as commuters' patience shows the strain

THE Railtrack offer rejected by the union yesterday would mean more money for some signal workers and less for others.

On management's own figures employees on grade B, one of the lowest, would enjoy the largest cash increase of pounds 1,357, while a relief signal operator on grade C, who now gets a number of extra payments, would see his or her pay decline by pounds 2,686 a year.

If the dispute drags on, management calculates no doubt that the 'winners' and 'losers' may clash over further industrial action.

Management argues that 75 per cent of the 4,000 employees concerned would see their pay increase, but the RMT transport union calculates that the average sums involved are minimal. Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the union, said that the offer would add just pounds 4 a week to average earnings of pounds 324.93.

David Armstrong, human resources director of Railtrack, says it would add between 16 and 26 per cent to basic rates. At present many signal operators can double their basic rate with overtime and allowances. The package on offer would abolish many of the extra payments.

However, the company wants to introduce sweeping changes to working practices. Mr Knapp argues the savings involved are far greater than the addition to pay.

The key problem is that the offer is made in return for new working methods and the union is seeking an increase for productivity changes already achieved. Signal box staff have also seen their earnings decline in relation to less skilled personnel.

Railtrack argues that its proposals for streamlining operations will 'release' pounds 4.3m. This will be done partly by introducing 'cashless pay'. Now, signal personnel have the right to be paid in cash, which management says is an expensive way of doing it. Other changes will also save money, such as simplifying promotion, recruitment and replacing the signal staff's 14- grade structure with seven grades.

The basic rate of the lowest- paid employee would rise from pounds 7,616 to pounds 8,850, while the highest paid would see the basic rate go from pounds 11,771 to pounds 14,350. The effect on total earnings, including additional payments, would mean that those on pounds 13,000 would get pounds 13,186; those on between pounds 12,507 and pounds 15,410 would receive pounds 13,782; pounds 15,809- pounds 19,299 - pounds 16,613; pounds 17,857 - pounds 18,400; pounds 20,513 - pounds 21,360; and pounds 21,971 - pounds 22,960.

Leading article, page 15