Railtrack and union clash over strike figures

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The Independent Online
AS THE 13th signal workers' stoppage ended yesterday management expressed increased confidence that rail services would continue to improve on strike days and that more union members would break the strike.

Threats of travel disruption emerged elsewhere, however, as train drivers on London Underground decided to ballot on action in protest at an imposed pay rise of 2 per cent. Any Tube strikes are expected to be called on the same days as stoppages by national signal staff.

In the face of union allegations of 'deception', a spokeswoman for Railtrack said the company was now 'far less cautious' in talking about the numbers returning to work. 'The numbers are rising and will continue to rise,' she said.

She claimed that British Rail was planning to run around half its normal services during the next stoppage, which lasts for 48 hours from noon next Monday. The executive of the RMT transport union is expected to meet within the next few days to call another stoppage in the week beginning 5 September, when the TUC conference is being held in Blackpool.

Railtrack claimed that 599 signal workers turned up for duty during the 24-hour walkout which ended at lunchtime yesterday. This was the highest figure since the dispute started and included 342 members of the RMT, management said. Around 70 of those on duty had not previously worked during a strike, Railtrack said.

The union retorted that 98 per cent of its members - 4,000 workers - backed the action and the numbers had increased since the dispute began because more had joined the union. Jimmy Knapp, RMT general secretary, insisted the signal workers' strike was holding and accused Railtrack of achieving more service simply by better 'exploitation of supervisors'.

The two sides also clashed over the number of trains which ran, with the RMT claiming the true figure was one-third, not the 45 per cent claimed. 'It is an exercise in deception,' a union spokesman said. 'Some RMT members have worked for the first time in 11 weeks, but we are talking very small numbers.

'Railtrack is only concerned with propaganda, trying to convince our members that there is a return to work.' The RMT claimed services were only 20 per cent full during the latest strike, although BR said many commuter routes were 60-70 per cent occupied.

Railtrack officials and union leaders meet in Glasgow today in an effort to break the deadlock. The talks between Paul Prescott, the director of Railtrack Scotland, and Scottish TUC officials come six days after Mr Prescott accused ministers of damaging Railtrack's negotiating position.

Danger signals, page 14