Air And Rail Strikes Threaten Travel Plans And Labour Hopes

(Telegraph) – BRITAIN IS FACING the most disruptive wave of industrial action since Labour came to power, as strikes by British Airways staff and rail workers threaten to throw the travel plans of millions of people into chaos.

In a move that represents a “nightmare scenario” for the Gordon Brown’s general election campaign, transport workers and public sector staff are set to stage a wave of strikes around the Easter period.

As many as 13,500 British Airways cabin crew – some of whom earn more than £50,000 – were beginning a three-day walk-out after negotiations with the company broke down.

BA said the strike – called by union Unite – would force it cancel a third of its scheduled flights, affecting 25,000 passengers a day.

A four-day strike is planned for March 27, and disruption to before and after each strike threatens two weeks of disruption for the airline’s customers.

Even before the cabin crew walk-out formally began, some BA passengers with tickets from London Heathrow were dropped from flights because of last-minute overbooking intended to beat the strike deadline.

Hours before the BA talks broke up, the RMT union announced that Network Rail signalling workers have voted for industrial action that could bring about the first national rail strike since 1996.

Rail maintenance workers have also voted to strike. A rail strike could come over the Easter weekend, when an estimated 10 million people are planning to travel by train.

The Public and Commercial Services union has also announced that more than 200,000 civil servants, benefits staff, immigration staff and court officials will strike on March 24, when Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, delivers his pre-election Budget.

The prospect of union action causing inconvenience and uncertainty for voters is causing alarm at the top of the Government. Senior ministers are afraid that voters will punish Labour for the strikes at the general election, planned for May 6.

Some minister fear a “nightmare scenario” where Mr Brown has to seek a dissolution of Parliament and begin the election campaign against a background of continuing industrial action.

Unite has given more than £11 million to Labour since 2007 and has links to more than 160 Labour ministers, MPs and candidates.

The Conservatives have highlighted those links, accusing Mr Brown of failing to stop the BA strike because Labour is “in hock” to Unite.

And while the RMT has cut its ties to Labour, Government insiders accept that many voters will still associate the union’s actions with the Labour Party.

The BA strikes have allowed the Conservatives to regain momentum lost during a period when Labour began to eat into their opinion poll lead.

A senior Cabinet minister told The Daily Telegraph last night that the issue would hurt Labour much more than a recent row over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status damages the Conservatives.

The minister said: “This is far worse for us than the Ashcroft affair is for the Tories. That is a story about politicians and the public view is they are all as bad as each other.

“But these strikes are going to hit consumers hard. Rail and air travel being disrupted will cause a real feeling of anger and it is bound to be taken out on us.”

David Cameron will today step up the pressure on Mr Brown, accusing the Prime Minister of being “feeble” and willing to give in to the unions.

Evoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative leader will promise to face down “vested interests” if he becomes Prime Minister.

Labour ministers had been hoping that last-minute talks between Tony Woodley, the Unite leader and Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, would resolve the dispute, but the meeting ended without agreement.

Afterwards, Mr Woodley accused BA of wanting to “go to war” with the union by insisting on changes to pay and staffing levels the company says are needed to save money and stay in business.

Mr Woodley said: “The hawks have won the day. People who wanted to negotiate sensibly are being outmanoeuvred and outfought.”

Mr Walsh said the strike threatens BA’s business.

In a letter to Mr Woodley, he urged the union to back down, saying: “For the sake of our customers, our people and our business, it is time to move on and end this damaging dispute.

Meanwhile, the rail signallers, who earn an average of £50,000 a year, have voted for industrial action in a dispute over work rotas.

Only 54 per cent of RMT signallers voted for industrial action, but Bob Crow, the union’s leader, said industrial action “looms large”.

Robin Gisby of Network Rail accused Mr Crow of “classic militant tactics” and said the RMT should drop its planned action.

He said: “We urge the union to get back round the negotiating table and talk to us about the real issues, and stop trying to hold the country to ransom.”

Raising hopes of a resolution, Network Rail and the RMT last night agreed to talks at ACAS, the conciliation service, next week.

But the union did not withdraw the threat of industrial action, saying it will name the dates for any strikes next week.

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, this week accused trade union leaders of trying to “hold passengers to ransom”, criticism that Gordon Brown has pointedly failed to repeat.

Lord Adonis said the failure of the BA strike was “disappointing.” He said: “This strike is in no-one’s interests and will cause major inconvenience to passengers.”

Theresa Villiers, the Conservative shadow transport secretary said Mr Brown should either force Unite to call off the BA strike or stop accepting the union’s donations to Labour.

She said: “Labour’s union paymasters at Unite are determined to inflict travel misery on thousands of families. It is disgraceful that they are going ahead with this unnecessary strike.

“Britain now faces Labour’s spring of discontent with militant unions threatening to bring our railways to a standstill as well. Strike action could leave the country facing a serious transport meltdown.”

Mr Brown himself made no comment on the BA strike, but issued a statement though a No 10 spokesman.

No 10 said: “The Prime Minister believes that this strike is in no-one’s interest and will cause unacceptable inconvenience to passengers. He urges the strike be called off immediately. He also urges BA’s management and workforce to get together without delay to resolve what is a dispute about jobs and wages.”

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

EDF London Underground Staff To Strike

(Reuters) – THE RAIL, MARITIME & TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION (RMT) said that over 100 electricians working for London Underground contractor EDF Energy Powerlink would strike next week over a pay dispute.

“EDF RMT members have been instructed not to book on for any duty between 19.59 GMT on December 22 and 07.59 GMT on December 24 nor for any duty between 19.59 GMT on December 26 and 07.59 GMT on December 27,” the union said in a statement today.

The RMT said that members of the Unite union have also been balloted and will be taking action at the same time.

EDF supplies power to the entire London Underground network.

London Tube Workers To Hold Strike Ballot Over Pay

(Reuters) – LONDON UNDERGROUND WORKERS are to vote on whether to strike in a long-running dispute over pay, their union said today.

Bob Crow, head of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union, said his members deserved a bigger pay rise to reflect ‘the real costs of living and working in an expensive city like London.’

The union has rejected the current offer of a pay rise of 1.5% this year followed by an inflation plus 0.5% increase from next April.

‘We have no option but to put the issue back out to our members and to begin the process of balloting for further action across London Underground,’ Crow said in a statement. No timetable for the vote and possible action has been announced.

The demand for a pay rise goes against Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s repeated calls for restraint in public sector wage deals to help rebalance the public finances.

The public deficit is forecast to reach £175 billion this year, more than 12% of gross domestic product.

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said last week he would seek a one-year public sector pay freeze from 2011 if the Tories win the next election. London Underground (LU) said its pay offer was a ‘very fair and final’ one in tough economic times.

‘Londoners will find another RMT leadership strike threat hard to take, especially when we are offering a two-year above inflation pay offer,’ said LU’s Managing Director Richard Parry.

‘Another strike will achieve nothing except lose staff more pay and cause unnecessary frustration and disruption to Londoners.’

A two-day strike by RMT members in June caused widespread disruption on the Tube network, which carries more than 3 million passengers each day.

Rail Workers To Strike

(BBC) – WORKERS AT THE MAIN TRAIN OPERATOR providing services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are to go on strike.

Union members at National Express East Anglia will stage walk-outs for 48 hours (Thursdays through Fridays) on 30 July, 6 August, 13 August and 20 August.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) leader, Bob Crow, said members were ‘determined to fight.’

A spokesman for National Express said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ the strikes had been called.

Mr Crow added: ‘RMT members are not prepared to be the victims of the National Express franchise chaos, and they are determined to fight for a decent pay rise and for decent working conditions.

‘This company has made half a billion in profits out of our members over the past decade. It’s a scandal that they are offering their staff peanuts in return.’

National Express said it had taken part in ‘lengthy negotiations’ and had offered the unions a salary increase above the rate of inflation.

‘In the present economic environment — where many companies are freezing pay at current levels — we believe the offers we have made are both realistic and appropriate,’ a spokesman said.

‘Strike action is not the solution and it will only result in difficult times for our customers.

‘We are available at any time for constructive discussions with the unions to find a resolution to this year’s pay award.’

Rail Union Has ‘Mandate’ For Further Industrial Action

(BBC) – UNION OFFICIALS HAVE SAID they have not ruled out further walkouts after services on London Underground (LU) returned to normal after a strike on June 11th.

The 48-hour stoppage, called by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, ended at 1900 BST on Thursday.

The union said it was willing to talk to Tube bosses; but said it had a mandate for further industrial action.

More talks between the RMT, which has called for a pay rise, and LU are to take place next week.

Despite both sides saying they were willing to resume talks, none were held on Thursday.

… (01/07/2009) – Fire Service To Vote On Industrial Action