New 48-hour rail strike under way

COMMUTERS today face another 48 hour walk out by rail workers and with it the threat of a further week-long strike.

Tom Potter

COMMUTERS today face another 48 hour walk out by rail workers and with it the threat of a further week-long strike.

Rail users have blasted both sides of an increasingly bitter pay feud as union bosses promised to ramp up strike action after last-ditch talks with National Express East Anglia ended without agreement.

Train drivers' union Aslef threatened six days of industrial action next month after a heated dispute over pay and conditions failed to reach a resolution yesterday.

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Talks were held at conciliation service Acas' headquarters, in an attempt to avoid another 48 hour strike, but an agreement could not be reached.

Last night, National Express East Anglia said that it believed it had reached an agreement with all three unions but a last minute withdrawal by Aslef meant that industrial action would take place.

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NXEA said the pay offer had been further improved to a 1.5% increase in 2009 and a minimum of 2.0% again in 2010 with no strings attached. In the case of train drivers this was on top of the 4.6% increase they received in 2008.

However, NXEA said it seemed that Aslef appeared to be holding out for an additional pay rise which would add another �0.75 million increase on the payroll each year.

Andrew Chivers, Managing Director, National Express East Anglia, said: “We have improved our offer further, putting more cash on the table, but after reaching what we believed to be a deal, Aslef withdrew their agreement.

“Aslef are simply determined to continue to disrupt the lives of thousands of people completely unnecessarily. We have asked them as a sign of good faith to halt the strikes, they refused. We have asked them to table the improved offer to staff, they refused. They have shown a complete disregard for our customers and the current economic climate, with expectations which are out of touch with what most workers in the UK are currently experiencing.”

“What is also disturbing is that after we had agreed a way forward today (12 August), setting up further discussions, and whilst the unions were discussing our offer, a statement was issued by Aslef stating further strikes would be planned. This is absolutely disgraceful; we are shocked and appalled at their behaviour.”

“We would like to apologise to all passengers affected by the strikes. We will again run a limited service on some routes and we remain committed to a fair and sensible resolution.”

Following unsuccessful discussions, Aslef leader Keith Norman said National Express “seems to live on another planet,” before a spokesman confirmed the union's executive decided to call a full week of strike action starting Monday, September 21.

“National Express doesn't seem to realise it has a problem and certainly has shown no sign of doing anything to remedy it,” he added.

Striking members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) were this week joined by booking clerks from the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA).

Aslef and RMT have taken action on four days in the last fortnight and the strikes now look set to continue beyond this week, with a fourth strike planned for next Thursday and Friday.

The stand-off has angered passengers who blame both sides for failing to reach an agreement over pay and conditions.

Rod Lock, secretary of the East Suffolk Travellers' Association and former TSSA member, said: “We are disappointed that this has been going on for so long.

“These disputes are usually resolved by a bit of give and take on both sides but neither the unions nor National Express want to concede defeat.

“The company has clearly upset all three unions and I can't remember that happening before.

“The longer it continues, the wider the impasse becomes and the longer each side becomes entrenched in its position.”

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