Union rift over Tube peace deal

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The Independent Online
Today's threatened Tube strike was called off last night, but the possibility of future action has not been ruled out.

In a split between the two unions involved in the seven-week dispute, the drivers' union Aslef hailed a 35-hour week deal from London Underground as a significant victory, but the RMT transport union said it was being bought at too high a price.

However, both unions agreed to suspend today's strike - scheduled to be the eighth in a series of stoppages, and the fifth joint day of action - and put the offer to members.

The move means for one day at least, the chaos that has brought misery to London's 1.6 million commuters will cease. Aslef general secretary, Lew Adams said he "anticipated a normal service".

London Underground welcomes the "path-finding deal." Managing director Dennis Tunnicliffe said: "This agreement is good for out customers, for London, for taxpayers and indeed for our train operators. Despite the inconvenience suffered by customers during seven strike days, this agreement provides a new and more stable industry relations climate."

The offer was the fifth option from London Underground and was presented to unions on Friday when they were unexpectedly called to a meeting at the conciliation service Acas.

It will secure the union's aim of a 35-hour working week by 1998, with a 1.5 per cent pay offer this year dropping to 2 per cent below inflation for the following two years. It will also cut the maximum shift length from eight hours and 45 minutes to eight and a half hours.

Although the proposal sees an effective pay cut, Mr Adams said the dispute had never been over salaries. "This wasn't over money, it was about easing the burden on the members we represent." The union had repeatedly offered to modify any pay claim in return for better working conditions to ease the stress of working under ground. "I think we've achieved a victory. This is perhaps one of the first of the public-sector trade unions to achieve a 35-hour week," Mr Adams said. "Unfortunately, in many respects one would have thought we could have come to this conclusion some two to three months ago."

However, Bob Crow, RMT's assistant general secretary, said his executive could not recommend the package. "There are some positive features, but the price of achieving the 35-hour week is high." Some conditions, such as working on rest days, were unacceptable, and the pay bargain would hit retiring members particularly hard as pensions are based on final- year salary which could be 6 per cent less than it might be by the end of this deal. He added, however, that the union executive would abide by the decision of its 900 members involved in the dispute. The referendum will close on 21 August, two hours before the next planned strike.

Acceptance of the deal would end a dispute that has cost London Underground an estimated pounds 25m every strike day.