THE RMT rail union is to ballot its members working for Northern Rail for strike action.

The RMT says that the rail company is continuing to use agency staff for what it calls “core” railway work when that work should be carried out by permanent employees.

The dispute surrounds 260 staff from the agency and security firm G4S who are sub-contracted by Northern to catch fare dodgers and ensure tickets are correctly used at stations.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “There is a cynical drive to use casual, agency staff to undermine job security, pay and working conditions on Northern Rail and our members are furious that not only have the company refused to stop this practice but they are driving it forwards.

“If there is work that needs doing, it should be done by permanently employed staff on decent pay and conditions and not by an exploited, short-term workforce paid a pittance and denied the most basic of workplace benefits.”

Adrian Thompson, Northern Rail’s human resources director, said the RMT was demanding that the company either sacked or directly employed the 260 staff involved.

He said: “The RMT is claiming that Northern is gradually replacing employees with agency staff – a claim that is completely untrue.

“We do not want to put these people out of work. These contracts carry out a vital role, ensuring that passengers have valid tickets and those fares are fully captured to reinvest into building a better railway.”

If there was a vote for strike action, the earliest a strike could take place would be Monday May 27, the company said.