Signalmen seek hint on details of pay offer: Union returns to Acas in attempt to lay ground for talks

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The Independent Online
THE rail signalmen's union will go back to the conciliation service Acas today to ask it to try to get more details of Railtrack's negotiating position before deciding whether to resume talks.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Railtrack are engaged in careful face-saving exercises as public impatience over the lack of progress in solving the two- month-old dispute grows.

The union accepts that it will have to talk about restructuring work practices and that it will not get a firm written offer from Railtrack on consolidating basic pay so that all or part of any rise also applies to overtime.

But what the RMT wants before talks is an informal indication of how much of the 6 per cent rise on basic pay being offered by Railtrack might be consolidated. A firm hint from the company to Acas may be enough.

There were hints from Railtrack to the media last week that half of the 6 per cent could be consolidated. Because almost half of signalmen's earnings comes from overtime and allowances this would increase the offer from 3 per cent to 4.7 per cent of overall pay.

An RMT spokesman said yesterday: 'If that is their position that will take us forward. They seem unwilling to say that to us but if they won't say it to us then maybe they will say it to Acas.'

Railtrack, which accepts that it will have to talk to the union about its prime concern, basic pay, appears to be playing games just as much as the RMT, leaking information about what might be on offer without officially confirming it.

Last week Bob Horton, chairman of Railtrack, offered the union 'five days of intensive negotiation' but refused to offer any specific figure. The company, which feels it has the upper hand since supervisors voted against striking, wants to get the RMT to the negotiating table without committing itself.

Meanwhile, the next and most damaging strike by the 4,600 signalmen looks certain to go ahead. The RMT has called stoppages this Friday and on Monday and Tuesday next week which effectively means five days of disrupted services from midnight on Thursday until the morning of Wednesday 17 August.

Despite Railtrack's plea in a staff bulletin yesterday for signalmen to ask the RMT to halt the stoppages there is no sign of the strike falling apart. The union claimed last night that it had received dozens of calls from members all urging it to fight on.