Fresh bid underway to break maintenance deadlock
Railnews: 12th May 2010
NETWORK Rail and the RMT are resuming talks today in a fresh bid to break the deadlock over the loss of maintenance jobs, which has already led to a vote in favour of a strike.
The core of the dispute is the proposal to lose 1,500 maintenance jobs, which Network Rail has attributed to new technology and improved efficiencies. It also says all but 100 of the jobs have already been shed amicably, with many staff volunteering for redundancy.
But the RMT has maintained that the reduction in the workforce poses a safety risk, which Network Rail denies, pointing out that its restructuring had to be approved by the Office of Rail Regulation.
The dispute came to a head at Easter, when the RMT said it would use the authority of the strike vote to stage a series of strikes immediately after the bank holiday. In the event, following a High Court ruling that parallel walkouts by signallers would be illegal because their vote had been flawed, all strikes were temporarily suspended.
So far, there has been no news of a reballot of signallers, but the maintenance workers dispute has now returned to the negotiating table at Acas. It's reported that Network Rail has withdrawn some proposals, although no details have been given.
NR chief executive Iain Coucher has described the negotiations as 'difficult', because they are complex and also involve various terms and conditions that have been inherited from previous contractors when they were the employers.
The general secretary of the RMT, Bob Crow, has given a cautious welcome to the latest developments. He said: "We are pleased that Network Rail has moved away from a confrontational approach." However, he also pointed out that the talks were by no means at an end.
So far, no dates have been selected for a resumption of maintenance workers' strikes.