Network Rail Granted Injunction Against Rail Strikes

(Guardian) – A HIGH COURT JUDGE today granted Network Rail a temporary injunction to block next week’s planned four-day rail strike by signal workers.

Mrs Justice Sharp made the temporary order after being told that the planned walkout, called by the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union was unlawful because of the way a strike ballot was conducted.

Network Rail said there were scores of “inaccuracies and deficiencies” in the vote of signal workers who backed a walkout with a majority of 54%.

Charles Bear QC, representing the company, said “the union fell short in multiple respects” of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992.

Frederic Reynold QC, for the union, said the RMT went to “very considerable lengths” to ensure that the ballot was accurate. But Mrs Justice Sharp ruled there were sufficient grounds for granting the injunction.

It does not affect a separate dispute involving maintenance workers who still plan to go ahead with strikes next week. This is expected to cause only minor disruption.

The union is now expected to organise a new ballot of signal workers.

The dispute was prompted by concerns over Network Rail’s plan to cut 1,500 jobs and increase evening and weekend maintenance work.

Network Rail’s successful challenge follows a similar tactic adopted by British Airways when it turned to the courts to avert a threatened strike by cabin crew over Christmas.

The legal challenge forced Unite to reballot its members over a strike. The walkouts went ahead earlier this month after the second vote, but the delay gave BA more time to prepare contingency plans to break the strike.

Network Rail said the irregularities in the vote included:

  • balloting 11 signal boxes that have been closed for years
  • recording more votes than employees in 67 locations
  • failing to ballot 26 workplaces involving 100 staff
  • balloting 12 locations where staff were ineligible to vote.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said the legal challenge was a “scandalous attempt” to use anti-union laws to prevent the workers exercising their right to strike.

The union expressed disgust at the order and said it would organise another ballot.

Crow said: “This judgment is an attack on the whole trade union movement and twists the anti-union laws even further in favour of the bosses.

“Workers fighting for the principle of a safe railway have had the whole weight of the law thrown against them. Our executive will meet this evening with a recommendation for a re-ballot.

“Our fight for safe working practices on Britain’s railways goes on.”

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Network Rail Workers Vote In Favour Of Strikes

(Independent) – THOUSANDS OF NETWORK RAIL MAINTENANCE WORKERS have voted strongly in favour of strikes in a row over jobs, bringing the threat of industrial action over Easter closer, it was announced today.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said 77% of its members who took part in the ballot backed strikes, with 89% supporting action short of a strike.

There was a 65% turnout in the ballot, called in protest at plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “RMT members were faced with a stark choice in this ballot. They could either sit back and wait for these cash-led maintenance cuts to lead to another major disaster on Britain’s railways or they could vote to take action to stop the attack on rail safety. They have overwhelmingly voted to take action.

“Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win this dispute and to stop this reckless gamble with rail safety. Nearly 150 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion opposing Network Rail’s cuts plans and have urged the Government to intervene to call a halt to this jobs carnage on the tracks.

“RMT is in no doubt that the cuts programme drawn up by Network Rail would drag us back to the dark days of Railtrack and would make another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg disaster an inevitability. That is what this dispute is all about and even the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has had to concede that the botched attempt to bulldoze through these cuts has raised serious safety concerns.

“RMT remains available for talks with Network Rail and we would hope that in light of the overwhelming mandate for action delivered by our members today that the chairman will respond to our request for meaningful discussions aimed at ensuring that the staffing levels required to deliver a safe rail system are maintained.”

The RMT executive will discuss its next move in the dispute next Friday, March 19, on the same day that a strike vote among NR signal workers in the same dispute is announced.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced today that 1,600 of its members, including electrical controllers in charge of supplying power to the tracks, would vote in the coming weeks on whether to strike over a 0.8% pay offer.

The union will announce tomorrow the result of a ballot among 2,000 of its NR members, including supervisors, in the job cuts row.

TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: “Network Rail is stumbling into a dispute by its high-handed approach to its workforce.

“Bosses are quick to award themselves bonuses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds every year and then they turn around and ask their employees to take an effective pay cut with an insulting offer well below inflation.”

The two unions will stage a demonstration outside NR’s London headquarters tomorrow.

NR said this week it had contingency plans to deal with any strikes over Easter and maintained that the vast majority of job cuts would be achieved through voluntary redundancy.

The firm said it needed to change working practices so that more maintenance staff worked at weekends to make repairs and maintenance more efficient.

An NR spokesman said: “The way the railway is maintained and operated needs to change. Work practices that date back to the steam age should no longer have a place on a modern railway. We all have a duty to get best value for the British people whilst running a safe, reliable and efficient rail network.

“We cannot allow the unions to hold this country to ransom. Negotiation is the only way this dispute will be settled, and the sooner we get around the table the better for everyone.

“There is still time for the RMT to come to its senses and resolve this dispute in a responsible manner. Our contingency plans to manage any industrial action are at an advanced stage and we will do all we can to minimise any disruption.”

… (Guardian, 17/03/2010) – Last-ditch talks to stave off national rail strike

Engineering Work To Hit Christmas Rail Travel

(Guardian) – SOME MAJOR SECTIONS OF THE RAIL NETWORK will be shut down over the Christmas and new year period because of engineering work, Network Rail confirmed today.

The most disruption will be on lines from London to south Wales, while there will also be disruption in the Southampton area.

There will be 28 separate pieces of engineering work on Sunday 27 December, 21 different works on 28 December, 16 works on 29 December and 15 works on 30 December.

But Network Rail said 8,000 more trains will run over the festive period than last year’s Christmas and new year period and there will be 33% fewer replacement buses.

Rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus welcomed the promise of less disruption this Christmas but said it was regrettable that the work affecting travel to and from south Wales was taking place over the festive period.

Network Rail said £100m was being spent to improve the railway over Christmas and that the “overwhelming majority of the main routes and cities remained connected by rail” over the holiday period.

Network Rail’s operations and customer service director, Robin Gisby, said: “We’re doing a lot of work this year to make Britain’s railway better but the overall effect on the passenger is markedly less.

“Passengers will see more trains, fewer buses and a better service this Christmas holiday period as our vital improvement work starts to use new techniques and equipment that lessens the impact on train services. This will be the model for the years ahead as we invest heavily to build a bigger, better railway.”

The chief executive of Passenger Focus, Anthony Smith, said: “Although investment in the railway is important, it is vital engineering works finish on time and passengers are properly informed so that they can consider their travel arrangements.

“Where bus replacement services are required they must be made a simple and comfortable to use. Furthermore, passengers should not have to pay the same price as a rail journey for travelling on a bus.”

He went on: “Passengers planning to travel between south Wales and England over the Christmas break will be shuttled onto a bus replacement service. Regrettably, it appears this work could not be planned to avoid this major disruption.”

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: “The vast majority of people travelling by train will be unaffected by improvement work over the Christmas and new year period. On the small number of routes that will be affected, train companies have been focusing all their efforts on letting passengers know about any changes to their normal journey.”

The main areas affected by engineering work over the festive period include:

  • Bristol to Newport, South Wales, 27 December to 3 January – The first phase of the £150m Newport area improvement scheme will be completed over the Christmas break. The rail route into south Wales from Bristol and Gloucester will be closed over the Christmas and new year period, affecting services of Arriva Trains Wales, CrossCountry and First Great Western
  • Southampton area, 21 December to 3 January ‑ Part of a £71m project at Southampton. Train services which pass through Southampton will face disruption. This affects services run by FGW, CrossCountry, Southern and South West Trains.
  • Thameslink upgrade, 12 December to 1 January – Part of the £5.5bn Thameslink upgrade project. First Capital Connect services over Christmas will run on the Thameslink route but will not go through the central London “core”, between St Pancras International and London Bridge/Herne Hill.
  • Liverpool Street station, London, 27 December to 3 January ‑ Part of a £200m overhead line improvement scheme. Services on National Express East Anglia from Liverpool Street to Stratford in east London will be affected.