Industrial news in brief: London Underground, Royal Mail, civil service

Submitted by AWL on 18 March, 2020 - 7:42 Author: Ollie Moore, John Moloney
London Underground

Tube drivers vote for strikes, Tube workers make C-19 demands

London Underground drivers in the ASLEF union have voted by a 95.2% majority for strikes to win an improved settlement on pay and conditions, on a 74.5% turnout.

Although ASLEF is a minority union on the Tube overall, it represents a slight majority of drivers. The result is significant, and smashes the arbitrary thresholds of the Tories’ anti-union laws.

ASLEF’s pay claim overlaps substantially with other unions’ claims, including in its demand for a 32-hour, four-day week. It also includes a sectional claim for a driver-specific salary increase to bring Tube drivers’ pay more in line with that of drivers on mainline train companies.

The RMT, which is the majority union on the Tube, and which organises across all grades and departments, is currently balloting its members over pay and conditions, in a ballot running until 31 March.

Many Tube workers’ immediate focus has now been claimed by the Covid-19 crisis, but demands for improved pay and work/life balance remain pressing. RMT has levelled a number of demands on London Underground over Covid-19.

Tube union RMT has made the demands below to London Underground.

The Tubeworker bulletin supported by Workers’ Liberty is demanding, in addition, “a monitoring committee, including representatives of passenger groups and trade unions, to sit in permanent session during this crisis to scrutinise information and recommend necessary actions”.

Tubeworker argues that this “is particularly important, as it allows us to keep up with a rapidly-changing situation and to assert the right of working people - workers and passengers - to scrutinise and drive the policies that directly affect us”.

On 17 March Transport for London committed to paying full pay for any Tube cleaner who self-isolates, rather than just Statutory Sick Pay. Union pressure was the major factor in securing this concession. The full list of RMT demands is:

1. Immediately ensure that all staff in all LUL [London Underground Limited] workplaces have ready access to hand sanitiser, gloves and liquid soap. This must be available to LUL staff and all contracted staff. Hand sanitiser must also be made as widely available as possible to passengers.
2. An immediate function by function review of arrangements for cleaning and responding to trains/workplaces where someone has been symptomatic. This must include immediate isolation of that workplace with all staff removed to a safe place.
3. Immediate risk assessment of all staff by line management in conjunction with Tier 1 health and safety reps.
a. Allow vulnerable staff to stay away from the workplace without loss of pay.
b. Allow those living with/caring for vulnerable people to stay away from the workplace without loss of pay.
4. Immediate action needed on cleaning
a. TFL must immediately guarantee full pay to all cleaners who have to take sick leave or self-isolate.
b. Increase the number of cleaners available.
c. Provide all cleaners with appropriate PPE and equipment.
d. Give immediate training to all cleaners in how to make work areas exposed to Covid 19 safe while protecting their own health and safety.
e. Bring cleaners in-house now
5. Urgently discuss with the trade unions how to implement a managed emergency service that can be maintained while projected isolations and sickness absence continues.
a. Suspend Night Tube
b. Only require members to run a service to meet the greatly reduced needs of essential users.
6. Reduce risk at stations
a. Review all congestion plans to prevent the build-up of crowds in enclosed passages
b. Turn off multi-user touch screen devices and leave WAGs [Wide Aisle Gates] open.
c. Suspend SATS [station staff on platforms announcing and helping to despatch trains]
d. Allow staff to work behind glass as far as possible.

Postal workers vote for strikes, but union holds back

Postal workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have voted by 94.5%, on a 63.4% turnout, for industrial action in their dispute with Royal Mail over working conditions and job security.

The CWU was forced to hold a new ballot after a previous vote, which returned a 97% majority on a 76% turnout, was injuncted by the High Court, after Royal Mail bosses claimed it breached anti-union legislation.

However, the CWU’s leadership has declared it will not be calling strikes, and has instead demanded that the post is designated as an additional emergency service during the Covid-19 crisis. In an article in the Mirror, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the union will be “writing to the Prime Minister to gain the government’s support for this approach”.

It is not clear what additional remit or duties “emergency service” designation would involve for postal workers, or what additional powers it might give to Royal Mail as an employer.

Ward writes: “We have called for Royal Mail Group to step back from their attacks in the workplace, imposing un-agreed change and destroying the very morale and vocational sense of purpose the nation now needs and work with the union to enact our proposal.

“If we can agree the introduction of the very best health and safety provisions and equipment that can guarantee our members safety, they will become an additional emergency service.”

It is unclear how the union intends to respond if Royal Mail refuse to “step back from their attacks”, or what its next steps might be now that it has ruled out calling a strike.

The decision to take this approach seems to have been decided entirely by the CWU leadership, with no prior discussion amongst members.

A North London postal worker told Solidarity: “As a rank-and-file postal worker and union member, I’m well aware of how important we are during this crisis. However, with no commitment so far from the company or the state to protect our jobs and conditions, it seems bizarre to commit to not striking, apparently unconditionally.

“Royal Mail have top form when it comes to going back on agreements - look at how they reneged on the ‘Four Pillars’ agreement, one of the catalysts for the current dispute. It seems pathetic to try to endear yourself to the current far-right government. Union leaders can’t keep making these decisions without consulting us.”

Full sick pay at BEIS

By John Moloney (assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity)

We met the Cabinet Office last week, and have two more meetings scheduled this week. We’re pressing a number of key demands, including the right for any worker with an underlying condition to stay at home, on full pay, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

We want the employer to ensure the latest government advice is actually adhered to regarding our members, and they wont suffer any detriment for sticking to those policies - which is ironic, considering that the main employer is the government itself.

We’re also taking up outsourced workers’ issues very strongly. We’re demanding full pay for all outsourced workers who have to self-isolate. In some areas, we’ve already won this - for example at BEIS London.

That’s a department where our outsourced worker members are well organised and recently won victories after sustained strikes. That shows that where organisation is stronger, you can make gains. We want to organise more outsourced workers into the union to push these demands across the civil service.

Museums and galleries are likely to close in the coming weeks, and we’re fighting for our members there who are on zero hour contracts to be guaranteed full pay, based on an average of what they work, if so. We’re also preparing for the possibility that employers will attempt to make temporary lay offs.

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