War of words over rail strike plans

A war of words has broken out between unions and a rail company over a series of strikes due to take place over the next few weeks.

A war of words has broken out between unions and rail company executives over a series of strikes scheduled to start this week.

Train operator National Express East Anglia (NXEA), which runs services between Norwich and London Liverpool Street along with other services across the region, claims that drivers' union Aslef and the Rail Maritime Transport (RMT) union are being unrealistic in the stand they have taken, following the breakdown of further talks.

The first of the planned strikes called by the unions in the dispute about pay and working conditions will take place tomorrow and on Friday.

NXEA says Aslef wants a minimum pay increase of 2.5pc, a four-day working week for all its members and a 4pc increase in the number of train drivers employed by National Express.

Managing director Andrew Chivers said: "The unions' demands are totally unrealistic, especially in this current economic climate. We have offered salary increases above the rate of inflation and remain available at any time for discussions to reach a sensible, affordable and fair agreement.

"Strike action is unnecessary, simply not the solution, and I

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would like to apologise to our customers."

Other strikes are lined up for August 6-7, 13-14 and 20-21.

Both unions insist that a breakdown in relations with management has led to the action.

Keith Norman, Aslef's general secretary, said: "The dispute is not just about pay but also about the poor industrial relations that have existed in this company for a long time, with little genuine effort being made by the management team to resolve issues between us.

"Our door is always open if a sensible solution can be found. Our attempts to resolve the dispute have been thwarted by management."

And RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT members have shown in a ballot, in which they voted a massive nine-to-one majority in favour of strike action, that they are not prepared to be the victims of the National Express franchise chaos and that they are determined to fight for a decent pay rise and for decent working conditions."

NXEA expects to operate only a limited service on selected routes between Norwich, Colchester and London Liverpool Street if the strikes go ahead.

Other travel options being offered include a combination of East Midlands Trains and First Capital Connect services from Norwich to Ely then on to King's Cross.

National Express has said that passengers will be entitled to a refund for the relevant day's travel if a strike does take place, and they can use their tickets the day before or after the strike days to avoid problems.

Aslef had also been planning industrial action on East Midlands Trains services, which run from Norwich to Peterborough, Nottingham and Liverpool, this Friday and on August 3, 7 and 10.

But those strikes have been called off, as were walkouts planned for last Friday and Monday.

Up-to-date travel information is available on 0845 600 7245 or at www.nationalexpresseastanglia.com