Railtrack refuses to give union details of offer

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The Independent Online
A SETTLEMENT of the rail signal workers' dispute looks as far away as ever today with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union demanding more details of Railtrack's pay offer and the company refusing to give any.

The union says that while Railtrack indicated to the conciliation service Acas that it might be prepared to consolidate some of the 6 per cent currently on offer it has not given any details of how much.

Railtrack has hinted that half of the 6 per cent could be consolidated and therefore added to overtime and pension entitlements as well as to basic pay, but it has refused to confirm this figure in writing.

Bob Horton, chairman of Railtrack, the state-owned company that runs the industry's infrastructure, said in a letter to Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT, 'no specific figure was offered', and subsequent attempts by the union have failed to draw more details.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack said yesterday: 'We are not talking figures and we never have done. The whole point is that we will go to the negotiating table in order to talk figures.'

The union says that it does need some figures in order to assess whether it is worth resuming negotiations in the increasingly bitter two-month-old dispute.

An RMT spokesman said yesterday: 'Our problem is literally that we don't know what Railtrack is talking about. We are really no further forward than we were last week.

'We talked informally with Acas on Friday to try to discover whether we have missed anything and their view is the same as ours in that no figures on consolidating the offer have been provided.'

The consolidation of all or part of the offer is important because about half of the signal workers' pay is made up by overtime, so any offer restricted to basic pay is worth less.

If half the offer could be consolidated this would raise the increase on overall earnings from 3 per cent to 4.7 per cent. Together with a 2.5 per cent rise for all workers and a pounds 250 lump sum for abandoning cash payments the package would be worth 7.2 per cent.

The RMT's negotiating committee - Vernon Hince, assistant general secretary, and six national executive members - will meet today to discuss ways of persuading Railtrack to firm up its offer.

In a bulletin sent to all staff yesterday Railtrack made a direct appeal to the signal workers to urge their union leaders to halt the stoppages and order a fresh ballot.

A newspaper report that Railtrack is hiring 200 extra signalmen as a strike-breaking force was ridiculed by both sides yesterday. The job advertisments were said to be part of a normal recruitment drive.