Strike action by rail workers could severely disrupt Britain’s train network after two unions announced ballots of over 10,000 members at Network Rail and three other major train companies over job and pension cuts.
Over 3,500 RMT union members will be voting at South West Trains, which wants to cut 660 jobs, National Express East Anglia which wants to slash 300 jobs, and First Capital Connect which plans to reduce the opening hours of 40 ticket offices.
The companies are using the cuts as means of keeping profits up during the recession and have not ruled out the possibility of compulsory redundancies.
A successful vote could see coordinated strikes on key commuter lines into London. The ballot begins on Tuesday of next week and ends on 17 March.
Almost 300 RMT members at London Overground are also set to be balloted from 3 to 17 March over a breakdown in industrial relations.
In a separate dispute, around 7,000 TSSA union members at Network Rail are to vote on action against management plans to introduce a “two tier” pension scheme. Their ballot closes on 23 March.
Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said, “Our members are facing industry-wide attacks on their jobs by privateer train operators who between them have siphoned tens of millions out of the railways.
“Our only possible response is to coordinate resistance to them. The job losses being imposed to protect the short-term, selfish interests of the parasites running our railways threaten to do lasting damage.
“It is the last thing our members, the public, the environment, or the economy needs.
“The government has said it will ride out the recession by investing in public projects.
“But if it allows train operating companies to decimate jobs it will be subsidising redundancies while the privateers continue to pay fat dividends to their shareholders.”
TSSA general secretary, Gerry Doherty, said, “Network Rail is trying to introduce a two tier pension scheme.
“They are asking older staff who used to be with British Rail to pay more to ensure that their present final salary scheme continues.
“But new recruits are banned from the scheme for five years and are then being offered inferior benefits. It is unfair and we will not accept it.”