The heads of the UK's rail unions are to launch a campaign today over workers pension rights, which could lead to the first nationwide rail strike in more than a decade.
Train drivers union Aslef, the RMT and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) have indicated they could hold simultaneous ballots of members if their demands are not met.
The deficit in railway operators' pension schemes stands at about £590m. The unions are calling for a deal with rail companies that includes:
keeping contributions at agreed levels
keeping schemes open to new entrants
moving towards a single pension fund for all rail employees.
Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of the TSSA, said the Association of Train Operating Companies had refused to talk with the unions, insisting they must speak with each company separately.
"This is a ploy to avoid engaging with us and make us use up our resources by holding separate talks," he told the Times. "The unions are demanding that the companies give a guarantee that employee pension contributions will be capped at 10.56%. Some branches of the rail pension scheme are so deeply in deficit that members face having to pay more than a fifth of their salaries in pension contributions."
The last time a national rail strike took place was in 1994 when signalmen brought the network to a halt.