There is an alternative to grade consolidation: our response to Nick Dent

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Sun, 02/01/2022 - 17:34,
Night Tube

Another day, another direct communication to LU workers from a senior manager pleading with us not to strike. This time it's from LU director Nick Dent, who has posted on Yammer attacking RMT's strikes against Night Tube grade consolidation. He says strikes are holding London "to ransom", and describes grade consolidation as "fairer" than the previous system. Here's Tubeworker's response...

Dear all,

RMT has renewed their mandate for industrial action across the five Night Tube lines, and has called for further strike action on weekends between January and June 2022. This is disappointing news and comes at a time when we need to be supporting our customers to comply with Government guidance and use our network safely.

This is one of the few points in the letter where Dent is correct. RMT has indeed called six months of industrial action, the maximum length of a legal strike mandate, on the lines currently running Night Tube (Central and Victoria), and we can call action on other lines should Night Tube be rolled out by management further. We are also ready to name further action at other times of the day/week, in consultation with members, should LU bosses continue to ignore our demands to protect work/life by ensuring Night Tube working is voluntary.

Dent talks about "disappointment:" it is certainly disappointing for passengers that LU has decided to give RMT drivers no option but to take industrial action, but our unions are here primarily to represent our members. It's in the nature of the work we do that passengers are inconvenienced when we take action. It's not in passengers' long-term interests to have Night Tube operated by fatigued staff compelled to work the shifts.

What is disappointing, to say the least, for LU workers is for the company to betray us and rip up the 2016 Night Tube agreement, using Covid as cover.

Let me be clear, these latest strike dates were voted for by a minority of RMT members. Grade consolidation has been accepted by ASLEF and now a minority of RMT members are calling for further action.

Of the 1,127 RMT members balloted on Night Tube lines, just 4% voted against continuing the industrial action, after we had already taken multiple days and nights of industrial action in different areas. How many people did LU or ASLEF give a voice to? The RMT is the only union giving drivers a vote on this attack to our working conditions and the drivers' voice has been clear – we are willing to take industrial action and we don’t support the Night Tube betrayal.

We've been meeting with RMT at ACAS for over six months and they haven't presented any realistic alternatives to grade consolidation.

It is when management make statements like this that members start to get really frustrated. There is a "realistic alternative" – the system that worked perfectly well for several years since the 2016 Night Tube agreement. Grade consolidation didn’t have to happen. Management didn’t have to rip up the 2016 agreement and force us all to work more nights and weekends. It was a choice that they made. Management created this mess, and they must fix it. Our red lines are clear: no compulsory Night Tube duties.

We cannot and will not be held to ransom by our trade unions.

Resorting to the language of the Daily Mail just shows how desperate LU management has got. Nobody is being "held to ransom" by workers demanding that LU be an honest employer and stick to agreements – such as the 2016 Night Tube agreement – reached at ACAS.

Grade consolidation remains a positive change - it allowed us to keep London moving, become a fairer place to work and bring back Night Tube and strike action damages customers' confidence in using our services and damages our revenue.

Tubeworker believes it is nonsense to try and tell us, when we have just voted for industrial action for a second time, that grade consolidation is a "positive change". Drivers aren’t stupid; we know that being forced to work more nights and weekends isn’t "positive" or "fair". It may be positive for management, who have saved a load of cash by making us a more flexible workforce, but it is insulting to tell a driver, or any worker, that it is better for them that they work more fatigue inducing, unsocial shift patterns. Management would do better to at least be honest in why this change works for them, rather than taking us for fools. Or perhaps they use this language not to trick those of us on the frontline, but to make those lower-grade managers feel better about the way they will be treating us too.

What allowed management to "keep London moving", was the Tube workers, coming into work and risking our health during a pandemic, while many managers worked from the safety of their homes during lockdowns. Night Tube was shut in 2020 and it made perfect sense to make the NT drivers who wanted it full-time, something that we all supported. What was unnecessary was then ripping up the Night Tube agreement.

LU had plenty of time to back fill the Night Tube position but chose not to. It was manipulative of management to suggest to NT drivers that they could only be made full-time if the 2016 agreement was ripped up. LU got both the labour they needed and tried to get a massive win over us by forcing unwanted duties on full-time drivers, including those who were formerly Night Tube but moved on to full time. This is not a "fairer" system.

Dent seems to believe it is "fairer" to force more night working and extreme shifts on people - so how many more night duties will LU directors be working this year? How many more weekends will it be "fairer" for Dent and his peers to be forced to work?

Throughout November and December RMT has disrupted our city with unnecessary strike action at a time when the city needs us the most. During the strikes targeting Night Tube, we were able to operate a safe and reliable service and we'll continue to do this throughout any further action.

The RMT has raised concerns through the health and safety machinery that Night Tube isn’t safe due to large gaps in the service, caused by drivers respecting picket lines. Dent may choose to ignore the two days of action on 26 November and 18 December that shut down much of the Tube, but RMT members have voted for further action and stand ready to send a reminder to management of our power and to take action across Night Tube lines should we need to do so.

Tubeworker believes this action should be ramped up and further dates for all-day actions named. This would send a clear message to management that we not only refuse to back down, but are ready to step up.

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