After yesterdays demonstration of union power there is still hope in avoiding a National Strike on Britain’s railways.
Led by the Unite Union, 12,000 British airways cabin crew have today down tools throwing the airline into chaos.
Talks to prevent 13,000 maintenance and 6,000 signal workers walking out on National Rail this Easter are proving more fruitful, with negotiation now moving to conciliation service ACAS.
Two disputes have merged to threaten the first National strike on the railways since 1996.
One dispute involves 13,000 maintenance workers, who are protesting at the loss of 1,500 jobs, and other could lead to action by 6,000 signalers in a separate argument over flexible roistering.
The first dispute would disrupt the traditional maintenance work period, supervisors in maintenance workshops and depots across the country. This would have caused minimal disruption. A strike by signal workers would cripple the network.
Row over just 100 jobs?
NR claim 400 of the 1,500 posts have already been lost through natural wastage with the other 1,000 taking voluntary packages. Leaving 100 jobs to be settled.
Hopes are high that a resolution can be found given the weak 54% mandate for walking out and that there are six days to go before strike action - the RMT's executive will make a decision on Thursday, that would be just in time to give the required seven days’ notice of any strikes over the Easter weekend.
Safety has become central to the unions case. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:
"Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win our fight against Network Rail’s cuts programme and to stop the reckless gamble with rail safety.”
Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher has dismissed this, telling Railnews:
"Does anyone really believe that I and the rest of the Network Rail Board would allow safety be compromised? Of course not. And even if we tried, the Office of Rail Regulation is monitoring us very closely, and it is right that it should do so. It is true that the ORR had some concerns about our new maintenance plans, but we are bottoming those out.
Network Rail must become more efficient. People want a better, larger and more cost-effective railway. And a railway that is safe. We don’t compromise on that, and we won't. But the RMT is demanding indefinite guarantees of no redundancies – ever. That’s not a promise I can make, committing us for decades to come. No company could that.”
So that leaves just 100 jobs to be discussed. We are doing everything we can to find alternative work for people who are displaced, but sometimes we can't reach agreement, perhaps because they are not willing to travel further to work each day. But I have told the RMT there will be no compulsory redundancies this year.
These strikes would serve no purpose. We can find a resolution to both disputes through discussion. But the RMT has been reluctant. It wanted to get a favourable strike ballot first, before sitting down to talk. It's the way it works.”