UK - Group asks TSSA union representing white-collar staff to withdraw notice of industrial action, pointing to ‘numerous defects’ in its ballot
Network Rail is threatening legal action to partially head off next week’s national rail strike, claiming “defects” in one union strike ballot.
The track operator has asked the TSSA rail union, which represents a minority of its employees, to withdraw its notice of industrial action or face legal action. The union has yet to respond formally but a spokesman described the move as “shambolic” and said it had not been served with any legal papers.
Talks are ongoing between Network Rail and the three rail unions, including TSSA and Unite. The largest union, the RMT, called a strike starting at 5pm on bank holiday Monday, 25 May, which would disrupt rail services nationwide the following morning.
The TSSA, whose members are mainly white-collar rail staff, is set to join the strike, in a dispute over a four-year pay deal that would freeze wage increases at the rate of inflation and enable possible layoffs after 2016.
Network Rail said it had not started a formal legal process but would do so if the TSSA did not agree to withdraw its ballot. A spokesman said: “Network Rail has a responsibility to passengers, freight users and to the country as a whole to do everything we can to avert a strike. Talks with the unions continue and we hope to reach a settlement, but we must explore all avenues at our disposal and that includes legal ones.”
Alleged discrepancies in the TSSA strike ballot include duplications and inaccuracies in the types of work and locations of staff who voted.
The TSSA, which has about 3,000 members at Network Rail, said that of the 52% of members who voted, 53% were in favour of strikes and 79% backed action short of a strike.
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA, said: “We are frankly puzzled as to why Network Rail are taking this legal route whilst talks continue today at Acas to solve this dispute and avert next week’s strike action.
“They seem more determined to impress [the transport secretary] Patrick McLoughlin and the Tories than making a serious attempt to resolve this pay row and ensure that the trains run on time over the bank holiday. We want to settle this around the negotiating table, not in the high court.”
Talks at the conciliation service Acas lasted six hours on Monday and are due to resume on Tuesday.
The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “It is highly damaging that instead of focusing on the talks process Network Rail have opted instead to threaten a dash to the courts to challenge the democratic decision of rail worker members of one of our sister unions.
“RMT will not allow this legal manoeuvring to cloud the real issues in this dispute over jobs, safety and pay justice. RMT will continue to engage in talks while we also finalise the preparations for our national industrial action.“
The RMT represents nearly 16,000 Network Rail workers. Its members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.
The strike, should it go ahead, would take place just before a Queen’s speech in which the new Conservative government is expected to announce legislation making it harder for transport workers to take industrial action.
SOURCE - .theguardian