Union leaders suspend three-day London underground train strike

LONDON (REUTERS) - Union leaders called off a three-day strike by London underground train staff hours before it was due to start on Monday, sparing millions of commuters a second week of travel disruption.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, whose members staged a 48-hour stoppage in the capital last week in a dispute over ticket office closures and job cuts, said it had called off the walkout following last-minute talks with transport bosses.

RMT's acting General Secretary Mick Cash said they had made "significant progress" on the issues in dispute. "As a result of that progress ... we are able to suspend the action due to commence this evening and further talks around the fundamental issues of cuts to jobs, services and safety will now take place," he said in a statement.

Last week's strike caused widespread transport problems for people trying to get to and from work, costing firms hundreds of millions of pounds in lost working hours and productivity.

But talks on Monday between the RMT and Transport for London (TfL), which runs the city's transport network, at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) led to the strike being suspended before the 72-hour action was due to start. The dispute centres on TfL's restructuring plans, which it says could save 50 million pounds (S$106 million) a year, but the RMT says will lead to the closure of 250 ticket offices and the loss of 950 jobs.

TfL says there will be no compulsory redundancies, and argues that fewer than 3 percent of journeys on the 151-year-old underground, or Tube, network now involve the use of ticket offices as most passengers have electronic ticket cards.

However, the RMT says safety and service quality will suffer.

Discussions had broken down on Friday with each side accusing the other of intransigence. "The only way to resolve this dispute is for the RMT leadership to work with us to shape the future of the Tube in a changing world," London Underground's Chief Operating Officer Phil Hufton said.

Some 3 million commuters use London's Tube daily and, despite services running on most lines and extra bus services during last week's walkout, commuters posted pictures on the Internet of overcrowded streets and platforms that showed them cramming onto packed buses and trains.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimated that a two-day strike by Tube workers in February cost small businesses, which make up about 99 per cent of London companies, about 600 million pounds.