Northern Rail workers strike called off after RMT hit with legal threat

Pacer train
Image caption Northern Rail said more than 60% of RMT members did not vote for industrial action

A rail strike has been called off after Northern Rail threatened to sue the union involved.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted to take industrial action in July over a number of issues including zero-hour contracts.

Northern Rail took legal advice and said the ballot was "unlawful".

The RMT has written to its members calling off the dispute, blaming "legal loopholes".

The union also attributed the turnaround to "anti-trade union legislation" and said it had been advised that an unsuccessful legal fight could cost it £500,000.

However, new laws to stop certain strikes going ahead unless they have the support of 40% of workers eligible to vote are yet to be passed.

The union said it was in dispute with Northern Rail over a series of issues, including:

  • Removal of permanent posts and the creation of zero-hour jobs via a contract with a security company
  • Cuts to booking offices
  • The role and responsibility of train guards.

It said Northern Rail had also given no commitment that there would be no compulsory redundancies beyond the end of its current franchise in February 2016.

Adrian Thompson, HR director for Northern Rail said: "More than 60% of RMT members did not vote for industrial action.

"We also had legal advice to say that the dispute was unlawful. We are pleased that the RMT has chosen not to take action and that our customers will not suffer unnecessary inconvenience."

A Northern Rail spokesperson added: "The RMT balloted on a number of issues which related to the next Northern franchise. These are issues beyond Northern Rail's control."

'Nit picking'

General secretary of the RMT Mick Cash wrote to members and said: "I regret to have to inform you that instead of negotiating and addressing the issues that have been of major concern to you and the union Northern Rail has used the anti-trade union legislation to stop you taking industrial action.

"They have had ample opportunity to negotiate with the union and we have at all times made it clear that this was our preferred option. Industrial action is always a last resort."

He called Northern Rail's action a "contemptuous attitude to take against its employees".

Northern Rail had questioned some of the grades, or positions held by members, which were listed in the notice of ballot, he said.

Mr Cash said the company was "nit picking" on this issue.

However, he said other issues raised would be "more difficult to defend".

Lawyers raised concerns about whether the dispute over zero-hour contracts was in fact with Northern Rail's contractors and not the company itself, and whether any agreement made with Northern Rail would stand after the new franchisee took over the business.

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