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Disputes loom for rail passengers

A series of disputes are brewing in the rail industry, threatening travel chaos for passengers in several parts of the country.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union today announced a five-day strike among engineers at Southern Rail, and a ballot result for action at Northern Rail.

Meanwhile, talks aimed at averting a strike by London Underground workers will not resume until Monday, days before a 24-hour stoppage is due to start from Wednesday evening.

The union said hundreds of engineers on Southern Rail will strike for five days from July 12, and ban overtime over the weekend of July 10-12 over claims of a "comprehensive breakdown" in industrial relations.

The move follows a 9-1 vote for strikes among union members at Southern, which operates commuter and other services between London and the Sussex coast.

Officials said under the 2013 pay settlement, a working group of union reps and managers was set up to find productivity measures that could cut the working week.

The union said the group could not find any way to bring in a 35-hour week with no extra cost to the company.

Productivity measures were subsequently brought in for engineers without leading to a reduction in the working week, said the RMT.

General secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT will not stand by while agreed policies, procedures and agreements are unilaterally ripped up by Southern and promises on the reduction in the working week are kicked aside despite increases in productivity.

"Southern is a company intensively under the spotlight over its performance at the moment and RMT will not have our members left unrewarded as they hit work targets and then face a barrage of attacks on working conditions and procedures. RMT remains available for talks."

Southern said: "We are disappointed that the RMT has decided to take this action at this time in the franchise, especially as we have been having meaningful talks with the union throughout this process about the issues raised."

The union also announced that around 1,500 of its members on Northern Rail voted by 4-1 to strike in a row over jobs and safety.

The dispute is said to be over a series of issues, including the removal of permanent posts and the creation of zero-hour jobs through a contract with a security company, cuts to booking offices and attacks on the role and responsibility of train guards.

The union said Northern Rail had also given no commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies beyond the end of its current franchise in February next year.

Four unions are planning to strike on London Underground next week in a dispute over the new all-night Tube, due to start over weekends from mid-September.

Talks have been held this week at the conciliation service Acas, but the dispute remains deadlocked.

The talks will not resume until Monday, with time running out on averting a walkout which would cripple Tube service in the capital, hitting tennis fans going to Wimbledon.

The strike is due to start on Budget day.

Adrian Thompson, human resources director for Northern Rail, said: "We are disappointed that RMT Northern members have voted in favour of strike action and industrial action short of a strike, but note that only 38% of members who were asked to vote, voted yes to this. That means 62% of people who were asked to vote either voted no or did not vote.

"The RMT executive committee has said it is now considering the result. As soon as we have any further information, we will update our customers.

"Some of the RMT's issues within this strike ballot are about the requirements for the next Northern franchise, which starts in April 2016.

"We have explained to the RMT that this means the issues they are concerned about are not part of Northern Rail's current franchise and are not within our control to change. They would need to be discussed with the new operator of the franchise from April 2016.

"The Department for Transport is expected to announce the winner of the next Northern franchise later this year."

Rail minister Claire Perry said: "No-one wants unnecessary strike action to happen. As well as disrupting hard-working people on their daily commute, these strikes will hit businesses with a significant cost to the economy. I urge the unions and operators to work together to resolve these issues."


From Belfast Telegraph