Rail and Underground workers vote for industrial action

In June 1998, several groups of members of the RMT trade union voted for industrial action on the London Underground and the national rail network, with the aim of protecting job security and conditions of employment.

On 3 June 1998, members of the the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) trade union on the London Underground tube train system voted by 2,471 (84.2%) to 462 to take industrial action in a dispute linked to government plans to allow the private sector to run part of the system. On the following day, the union's executive named dates for strikes or other forms of industrial action which would badly disrupt Underground services, including a 48-hour strike form 14 to 16 June. RMT said that it was determined that privatisation would not mean mean exploitation. According to Jimmy Knapp, the union's general secretary, RMT has no problem with the principle of change and is ready to negotiate a package - but this would have to be based on fairness.

Six days later (on 9 June), it was announced that railway maintenance workers belonging to the same union were to strike for 11 days. The workers, employed by nine engineering companies, were to stop work for four days from 19 June and seven days from 29 June. Railtrack, the company which runs the rail network, said that contingency plans were in hand and, although in the first instance it was expected that the impact would be minimal, it is difficult to predict the effects as the strike goes by. Mr Knapp of the RMT accused the companies of asking for too much in return for too little compensation under proposals to restructure pay and conditions. Some 9,000 union members supported the industrial action during earlier ballots.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) became involved in the conflict when it confirmed that a letter had been sent to Railtrack reminding the company of its responsibilities during the planned maintenance workers' strike. The letter was copied to the RMT. Railtrack said that it would make sure that staff were available to deal with emergencies like broken rails and signal failures, and made it clear that, if necessary, it would not hesitate to close a section of line in order to ensure safety. It would give HSE a daily progress report for the duration of the strike. HSE's railway inspectors were to monitor the arrangements and carry out spot-checks on strike days.

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