Tube: no sell-off for drivers

Submitted by Matthew on 28 September, 2011 - 12:49

London Underground management are attempting to ride roughshod over tube drivers’ terms and conditions as they seek to impose a new working agreement for the London 2012 Olympics.

The new terms include 9-hour shifts at weekends (plus a 30-minute unpaid meal break) and the overriding of local agreements such as the one on the Bakerloo line where drivers currently drive through no more than five tunnels per duty but would be expected to drive through six under the terms of the new deal. Bosses also want the right to change drivers’ duties and rest days at shorter notice than before. The working week could also be extended from 36 hours to 42.

Drivers-only union ASLEF has agreed to the deal, citing the £500 bonus LU management is offering to drivers. Because ASLEF has a majority on the Trains Functional Council (the cross-union body which negotiates drivers’ working conditions with management), LU bosses are claiming that the deal is now agreed and will be imposed. The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT), which also organises Tube drivers has not signed up to the deal and promises to fight it.

RMT argues that, rather than making existing drivers work longer hours for a paltry bonus, LU should take on some of the workers from other grades currently on the waiting list for promotion to drivers’ positions. A resolution by RMT’s Executive, proposed by London Transport region representative Janine Booth, states that, “all grades of London Underground workers face increased workload and pressure during the Olympics. All grades deserve to be properly rewarded, and to be protected against attacks on hard-won agreements and rights.”

The union also seems set to dig in for a long-term battle with LU management over the 2011 pay deal. LU is insisting on a 5-year pay deal, 0.5% below RPI in the first year and only fractionally above it in the following years. Not only is this not good enough in cash terms, it also does not give the improvements in working conditions or the better rise for lower-paid grades that three of the unions (RMT, TSSA and Unite) demanded, and would clear management’s desk for five years, enabling them to pursue a wholesale attack on jobs after the Olympics.

Union activists can see the benefits of waiting to use the added bargaining power tube workers expect to gain from 2012’s Olympics and Mayoral elections. But activists also worry that if the fight is delayed too long, the financial pressures of the Christmas/New Year period may weaken members’ resolve to fight, and the company may try to impose a deal or one of the unions may break ranks and accept it.

AWL members working on the tube have been arguing for a strategy based on taking the issue out round the workplaces as energetically as possible, so that rank-and-file members are ready for a fight whenever is the right time to do it, and which has opposition to long multi-year deals, and real improvements to pay and conditions, as a bottom line.

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