Simmons comes under fire for role in Railtrack dispute

CITY firm Simmons & Simmons was attacked at the TUC conference in Blackpool for apparently advising rail chiefs to sack striking signal workers without notice and to face the legal consequences.

But the firm declines to be drawn into a public row with unions over the affair.

National Union of Journalists general secretary John Foster told delegates: “This is the same firm who advised the Daily Telegraph to do the same thing. Now they are advising a state-owned company to break the law, because it's cheaper.”

Railtrack was reportedly advised to sack the strikers within 16 days rather than the 90-day notice required under employment law. Personal contracts would be introduced and those who refused to sign them would be sacked and entitled to claim for unfair dismissal. A Simmons & Simmons spokesman declined to comment.

Foster said the advice was damaging because smaller companies took their lead from high-profile ones.

He was speaking in favour of a motion calling for a “new framework” of union legislation, in which some aspects of conservative union laws would remain, including pre-strike ballots.

A separate proposal from the National Union of Mineworkers called on the TUC to break Conservative anti-union laws. General secretary Arthur Scargill said: “Every year, the worthies on the TUC platform pay homage to the magnificent struggles of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the suffragettes and the ANC. Does it not occur to them that they defied laws which were unfair?”

Scargill's motion was defeated by a majority of two to one.