Unions to meet BR as drivers vote to strike: Aslef threatens to maximise train disruption

UNION leaders will today meet British Rail in an attempt to avert a second round of industrial action which yesterday received the backing of the network's 16,000 train drivers.

Announcing the strike ballot result, Derrick Fullick, general secretary of the Aslef drivers' union, said his members would join other rail workers in a 24-hour stoppage on Friday week, but warned of worse to come if BR refused to compromise.

Unless BR gave assurances over redundancies and drivers' employment conditions, his union could mount stoppages on separate days to maximise disruption, he indicated.

Mr Fullick said that 55 per cent of Aslef members had voted for a rolling programme of day-long strikes in a 67 per cent turnout. He rejected suggestions that the majority in favour of industrial action in the postal ballot was disappointing. 'After all, only a minority of people voted for the Conservative Government,' he said.

Jimmy Knapp, leader of RMT, the biggest rail union, said he would be presenting a peace formula to today's meeting. 'There is still a mountain to climb, but if they are serious about negotiating an end to the dispute we believe there is a means of doing it without creating a precedent.'

BR has said that RMT's call for an assurance that there would be no compulsory redundancies amounted to a 'jobs for life' guarantee.

Senior RMT officials said the wording of a deal struck in 1984 had already laid down those assurances, but they had been lost subsequently during a reorganisation of the bargaining structure. The officials argue that restoring the 'meaning and intent' of that agreement would be sufficient to achieve a settlement.

RMT is seeking a commitment that management would attempt to find alternative employment within BR for those whose jobs were deemed to be redundant. 'We are not looking for a guarantee that everyone stays in the same job,' RMT officers said.

Paul Watkinson, BR's director of personnel, described the vote by Aslef members as a 'double blow' for the railway and its customers: 'We have already given Aslef a number of assurances,' he said. Today's meeting had been called in an attempt to find a way through the dispute. 'We certainly can't afford another damaging strike,' he said.

BR estimated that last Friday's stoppage, involving 68,000 members of RMT and 3,000 maintenance workers belonging to the AEEU engineering and electrical union cost it pounds 10m.

Mr Fullick said his union was normally used to 'abuse' from commuters over industrial action. 'In this case the reverse has applied. People have been ringing us saying that our campaign against rail cuts was fine, but when are we going to do something? They realise that there but for the grace of God go I' He hoped today's meeting would resolve the dispute. 'We don't want a strike and I'm sure nobody else does.'

London bus workers are also expected to mount a 24-hour strike on Friday week and leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers are today expected to follow suit.