Crucial talks today aim to halt Easter rail strike shutdown

CRUCIAL talks aimed at avert-ing a crippling strike by thousands of rail workers after Easter will be held today, with the Government hoping for a breakthrough in a row over jobs.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union has drawn up proposals for resolving disputes over plans by Network Rail to axe 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices.

The talks between the RMT, Transport Salaried Staffs Association and Network Rail will be held under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas.

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The unions have warned the rail network will "effectively be shut down" by the planned strike action between Tuesday April 6 and Friday April 9.

Network Rail said it would continue to try to find a resolution to the dispute, although it has not ruled out legal action.

The start of the planned strike by maintenance workers, signallers and supervisors on April 6 coincides with the day Gordon Brown is widely expected to announce the general election will be on May 6.

Meanwhile the strike at British Airways today enters its third day. British Airways said its services yesterday had got off to a "strong start", although union Unite maintained its members were strongly supporting the walkout.

The two sides clashed over the impact of the four-day strike, which will end tomorrow evening, with BA saying more flights were operating than during last weekend's strike, while the union said scores of services were being cancelled.

Striking British Airways staff have been manning pickets at various sites around Heathrow airport.

The striking staff were also ferried to and from the pickets in minibuses from a nearby football ground where hundreds of them gathered for a second day.

It was billed as a "family day" with a bouncy castle and inflatable slide to keep the children of BA workers entertained.

But the departure hall at Heathrow's Terminal 5, which operates only BA flights, was quiet yesterday.