Unions step up railway disruption: BR faces two-day shutdown as Aslef is expected to join jobs action - Firefighters' pay strike moves nearer

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COMMUTERS COULD face worse disruption on British Rail next week as train drivers join platform and other staff in a campaign of industrial action.

Leaders of the 68,000-strong rail union RMT yesterday called a second 24-hour strike on Friday week in protest at the threat of compulsory redundancies.

The train drivers' union, Aslef, is today expected to announce a 'yes' vote in a ballot on strikes over job losses and the potential impact of


The worst possible case for travellers is if Aslef, which has 16,000 members, calls a one-day stoppage next Wednesday or Thursday, prolonging and maximising disruption.

London bus drivers are set to follow RMT and strike on Friday week over pay cuts, as they did last Friday, while the National Union of Mineworkers executive is tomorrow expected to call a second 24-hour strike to coincide with the RMT.

Leaders of RMT and senior British Rail officials agreed last night to meet to try to avert industrial action, but management insisted that the required assurance of no compulsory redundancies amounted to a guarantee of a 'job for life'.

Meanwhile firefighters moved closer to their first industrial action in 16 years after local authority management meeting in Glenrothes, Fife, declared yesterday they would not be bound by an index-linked pay

formula that ended a strike in 1977.

Leaders of the 50,000-strong Fire Brigades Union said they would recommend a strike ballot to the union's annual conference next month in Bridlington, Yorkshire. The employers indicated they would not fund an increase above the government-imposed ceiling of 1.5 per cent. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, has told the union that the Government will stick to the limit.

Representatives of 750,000 local government workers yesterday rejected a 1.5 per cent pay rise and called on management to reconsider its position before the next talks on 11 May.

Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT, said his executive had decided against calling a strike this Friday because it would have disrupted the Easter holiday. 'Our dispute is with the British Railways Board, not with the travelling public.

'Our objective in taking industrial action is to apply pressure on BR to address themselves seriously to a serious problem. That problem is the future job security of 130,000 workers. I believe that BR has badly underestimated the depth of concern among their workforce on this issue, after last Friday they can no longer be under any illusions.'

A guarantee of no compulsory redundancies created no precedents in industry generally or in BR, said Mr Knapp.

Another demand that management impose a moratorium on the use of contractors when BR staff were being made redundant was also deliverable, he said.

Last Friday's stoppage by RMT halted all but a couple of passenger and freight services at an estimated cost of pounds 10m to British Rail. But fears of chaos on the roads failed to materialise as many commuters took work home or started the weekend early.

Some senior BR managers firmly opposed to privatisation believe that Mr Knapp may be giving ammunition to the Government. One said: 'A principle argument in favour of the sell-off is that unions would no longer be able to bring the whole system to a halt. Jimmy could be playing into their hands.'

Paul Watkinson, BR's group personnel director, said that while the Easter holiday might be safe, RMT had made a 'disastrous decision'. Mr Watkinson said the nation could not afford 'another day's holiday'. The travelling public would have great difficulty getting to work and the railway industry would lose another pounds 10m and a lot of customer confidence. RMT members' jobs were also being put at risk, he said.

Asked if there was any possibility of the union getting the assurance on job security it was demanding, a BR board spokesman said: 'There is absolutely no way that anyone can give a cast-iron guarantee of that nature.'

Blunt pragmatist, page 2

(Photograph omitted)