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London Underground strikes 'loom' as rail and Post Office action continues

Strikes could spread to London Underground in the New Year because of a long-running dispute over jobs, as thousands of rail and Post Office workers continue to take industrial action.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Southern Railway will complete a 48-hour walkout in a long-running row over the role of conductors.

Coupled with a continuing ban on overtime by drivers in Aslef, the action caused fresh chaos for Southern's passengers, with services delayed or cancelled.

Post Office workers in the Communication Workers Union remained on strike in a dispute over jobs, pensions and branch closures.

The RMT said it was actively considering strikes on London Underground (LU) in protest at a programme of savings which it said had led to 800 job losses.

The union said it had obtained the minutes of a meeting of senior Tube bosses at which managers expressed concern about the job cuts.

One manager is quoted as saying that he agreed with the union.

RMT members have been banning overtime since last month but the union warned that strikes now "loom".

General secretary Mick Cash said: "Tube unions have been warning LU for two years that stations cannot function after so many job cuts. Now their own middle managers are telling them the same.

"Instead of addressing a chronic lack of staff, Tube bosses are ordering office workers and senior managers with no operational experience to cover the jobs of trained station staff after one-day courses.

"We have seen people in jeans and trainers breaking safety rules as they try to cover roles that they are simply not qualified to do."

The RMT reacted angrily to reports that the Prime Minister told a meeting of Conservative MPs in constituencies served by Southern that other train operators should run longer trains, and more buses should be laid on, to compensate for the disruption passengers have faced for months.

Mr Cash said: "Instead of resorting to lash-up stunts for public relations purposes, Theresa May should be instructing her Southern rail contractors to get back round the table and sort out the issues about passenger safety at the heart of this dispute.

"If she's serious about getting a grip, Mrs May needs to scrap that agenda of confrontation and give us an opportunity to engage in genuine and meaningful talks."

Talks between British Airways and Unite continued at the conciliation service Acas to try to avert strikes on Christmas Day and Boxing Day by cabin crew over pay.

The airline said it will operate all its flights if the action goes ahead.

Unite is also involved in a pay dispute with Swissport which threatens strikes by baggage handlers and other ground staff at 18 airports. Talks between the two sides will also be held at Acas on Tuesday.

The RMT said a Christmas truce in the Southern Railway dispute was in the hands of the Government.

The union highlighted recent agreements on new Government rail contracts elsewhere in the country in which conductors have been retained.

The arrangements cover Great Western, East Coast, and Transpennine Express contracts and are in addition to the deal achieved on the Scottish Government's rail contract this year, said the RMT.

The Post Office said fewer than 50 branches were closed despite the strike.

The Communication Workers Union called for the board of the Post Office to be held accountable for their decisions that have led to the ongoing dispute.

General secretary Dave Ward said: "It is totally unacceptable that board members, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money are not facing up to the media in this dispute.

"Using a member of staff to deliver tired and rehearsed lines is not good enough. We call on the board to step forward and would be happy to debate with them on any media platform."

The union said support for the industrial action was "magnificent".

London Underground operations director Brian Woodhead said: "We have always committed to reviewing our staffing model with the trade unions during its first year. Following constructive and positive talks, we are recruiting additional staff for stations and believe this will help us to provide a better service for our customers.

"We will continue working with the trade unions as well as implementing the recommendations made by the London TravelWatch review to ensure that our customers feel safe, fully supported and able to access the right assistance no matter where they are travelling on the Underground.

"I would encourage the unions to continue to work with us on this process rather than threatening strike action."

Workers on London's Woolwich Ferry are to be balloted for strikes over a series of issues including claims of bullying and health and safety concerns.

Members of the Unite union will vote in the next few weeks on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action.

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