Thousands of Network Rail workers and managers are to be balloted over strikes which could lead to industrial action in the run-up to Easter, it was announced today.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said it will ballot more than 2,000 supervisors and managers in a long-running row over jobs, while around 13,000 Rail Maritime and Transport union members will also vote.
Both ballots will start next week and the results will be known next month, raising the prospect of industrial action from March 21.
TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: "I hope that we can avoid any disruption over the Easter break and I am calling on Network Rail to start serious discussions with us now to prevent that happening.
"Not only are they insisting on going ahead with these job cuts but they are refusing to give us a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies when they keep claiming the jobs will go on a voluntary basis."
The union said strike action by the supervisors and managers in the maintenance works and depots would "seriously hamper" maintenance tasks and quickly disrupt travel.
Mr Doherty also warned that another 1,500 union members in Network Rail would be balloted on strike action if NR did not improve on an 0.8% pay offer by next Tuesday.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "We are balloting for a national strike because we know that the threat to axe jobs and compromise safety standards makes another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg disaster on the UK rail network inevitable.
"We have warned Network Rail repeatedly that, if they don't lift the threat to jobs and rail safety, we will have no choice but to take action. They have ignored those warnings and so the ballot will begin next week.
"I have no doubt that the British people will understand that you cannot take reckless gambles with rail safety in the name of efficiency and to hit financial targets on the bottom of a balance sheet.
"We are calling for an overwhelming 'Yes' vote in this ballot but remain committed to talks with Network Rail aimed at reaching a settlement to this dispute that puts the safety and security of passengers and staff right back to the top of the agenda."
A Network Rail spokesman said: "We are disappointed to hear these calls for strike ballots.
"It is part of a wider discussion we are having at Network Rail about how we need to change so we can deliver the railway Britain needs in the 21st century.
"The way our people work needs to change too, and we have made a decent and generous offer to them. We all must move with the times but we will never compromise on safety.
"We urge union leadership to think again before they carry out any misguided action that could jeopardise all we have achieved together in transforming the railway.
"We all have a duty to get best value for the British people whilst running a safe, reliable and efficient railway."
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Yet again, we see the RMT trying to wind the clock back to the Seventies, when strike action under the last Labour government crippled the country.
"Going ahead with a deeply irresponsible strike would inflict travel misery on millions of passengers and the economic damage it would cause would harm efforts to recover from the recession.
"We all know that Labour is in bed with the unions, so the travelling public will need assurances that the Government is prepared to stand up for the interests of passengers."Reuse content