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Rail bosses snub talks in attempt to avoid an ‘Advent calender’ of industrial action

RAIL bosses were accused yesterday of “snubbing” talks to avert pre-Christmas strikes, as an “Advent calendar” of industrial action hits Britain’s trains.

Workers on Virgin Trains’ West Coast main line services will walk out on Friday, in protest at being asked to “self-finance” a one-hour reduction in the basic working week.

They will be joined on picket lines by Merseyrail guards who are on strike over the imposition of driver-only trains.

Then staff on CrossCountry will walk out on Saturday and Sunday (Christmas Eve) in a dispute over rostering and Sunday working.

CrossCountry workers will strike for a third day on December 27 and a fourth on New Year’s Eve.

The same day will see disruption on the Greater Anglia network and a strike by guards on South Western Railway and Island Line, again as part of the spreading dispute over driver-only operation and the deskilling of the guard’s role.

Cleaners on London’s Docklands Light Railway will walk out on New Year’s Eve following a “breakdown in industrial relations.”

A source close to the rail disputes told the Star: “That’s quite an Advent calendar for you.”

Workers on Virgin are up in arms after drivers on the network were offered a pay rise amounting to £500 a year in order to make up for the one-hour reduction in their contracted hours. The increase was also made pensionable.

Now the RMT union, which organises most of the Virgin workforce other than drivers, says its efforts to resolve the dispute have been "snubbed at every turn by Virgin management.”

General secretary Mick Cash said: "Our members are angry and determined, as they showed in the rock-solid action across the franchise in the first in a scheduled series of strikes last week.

“This strike is about justice and equality and against the divide-and-rule approach of Virgin. It’s about time the company listened to their staff and took this dispute seriously.”

Most of the striking workers are organised by the RMT, but Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) members on Virgin are also in dispute.

Virgin Trains denied that it had refused to enter talks.

“The RMT and TSSA leadership are attempting to cause disruption when many will want to travel by train to spend time with loved ones,” said managing director Phil Whittingam.

“We have explored a generous 3.6 per cent pay increase. However, the unions’ leaderships are insisting on 4 per cent, double the 2 per cent average increase seen across the UK this year.”

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