Railtrack strikers threatened with pounds 50m pension loss

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The Independent Online
RAILTRACK may withdraw its pay offer to striking signal workers with the threat that pounds 50m could be lost for ever to their pension fund.

The company hopes that such a tactic, which could mean the loss of up to pounds 1,700 a head in pension entitlements, would make employees think again about management's productivity package.

In the wake of a fresh 'hearts and minds' campaign starting today, Railtrack hopes employees will put pressure on leaders of the RMT transport union to negotiate on the basis of the existing offer.

Senior management sources contend left-wingers on the RMT executive are primarily responsible for the intensification of the campaign of industrial action, which now includes 48-hour strikes to follow this Wednesday's 24-hour stoppage. Company negotiators believed they were close to a deal during talks early last Monday morning when 'the mood suddenly changed'. Railtrack believes left-wingers intervened to prevent a settlement.

The basis of the company's threat over pensions is that on 1 October the British Rail pension fund will be divided up among operating companies according to a formula linked to basic pay. At the moment, signal workers' basic is low and on average they double their take-home pay through non- pensionable allowances.

Under the company's offer, the basic rate would be increased by between 13 and 26 per cent, thus considerably enhancing Railtrack's share of the pension fund. Another option under consideration by Railtrack is that the package, which would increase total earnings by around 3 per cent, could be offered on an individual basis to signal staff. Strikers' morale would be undermined if an increasing number accepted it.

Senior Railtrack managers say the company 'cannot sit back and do nothing' as millions of travellers are inconvenienced and the economy is damaged. Over the past few days, the Government has been keen to find out the company's plans in the light of the escalation of the dispute by the RMT executive last Thursday.

Railtrack is seeking agreement to fresh efficiency measures before awarding a pay increase, whereas the union is demanding an 'upfront' payment for productivity improvements already achieved.

Managers argue that the union has a long record of opposing restructuring and productivity packages throughout the industry. The RMT, however, contends that it has been seeking a deal for signal workers for the last six years.

The union plans a 24-hour strike this Wednesday; 48 hours next week from noon Tuesday 26 July to noon on Thursday 28 July; 24 hours the following Wednesday and a further 48-hour stoppage in the week beginning 7 August.

Leading article, page 13