Railtrack told it cannot breach pay policy

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The Independent Online
THE Government last night firmly ruled out any attempt by Railtrack to breach public-sector pay policy to end the deadlocked signal workers' dispute.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, said yesterday that any deal would have to be self-financing despite warnings from Railtrack that its pounds 4.3m restructuring package would need to be improved significantly in order to end the strike quickly by either imposing personal contracts or negotiating a settlement.

Dr Mawhinney's intervention was seen last night by the unions and Labour leaders as a hardening of the Government's position, which could lengthen the dispute.

Frank Dobson, the Labour transport spokesman, accused Dr Mawhinney of intervening to prevent a settlement. 'It proves what we have been saying all along - Railtrack has no freedom to negotiate. The Government is pulling the strings,' he said.

Discussions have taken place between Railtrack officials and the Department of Transport over the nature of any deal for the 4,700 signal staff. But Dr Mawhinney made it clear that the freeze on public- sector pay without productivity improvements would not change.

'The changes on offer are self- financing and can be delivered within the Government's policy . . . That policy will not be shifted by this dispute,' he declared.

Railtrack had sought clarification of what could be classed as self-financing, and any decision to issue improved personal contracts is likely to be subject to specific approval by the department.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union, denied that the RMT was seeking to break government pay policy.

'I strongly believe what we are seeking fits inside existing policy. Dr Mawhinney seems unaware that signal workers were offered 5.7 per cent on basic rates last June to reflect efficiency gains,' he said.

Railtrack is refusing to improve on its interim pay offer, which it says is worth 7.2 per cent, and wants the union to negotiate on longer-term restructuring. But leaders of the RMT say the company's offer would mean only 3 per cent on earnings and want it increased before it will talk on a new employment package.

Railtrack hopes that 40 per cent of the network will be open for the 24-hour strike from midday next Monday, and for the 48-hour strike beginning the day after August Bank Holiday Monday.

United Kingdom investment in railways per head of population will be the lowest in Europe over the next six years despite the need for pounds 750m to replace worn-out trains, according to a report by transport consultants Steer Davies Gleave.