On 18 May, train drivers’ union Aslef reported that up to 30 London Underground drivers were sent home after raising safety concerns, including some who raised concerns about not being able to safely distance in staff mess rooms due to the number of drivers on duty.
Some drivers were issued with a letter from their local manager which read:
“You have indicated you are not willing to undertake your normal rostered duty, despite the fact that it is safe to do so and you have been provided with assurance documentation that confirms [there is] no serious and imminent danger.
“I must now advise you that your continued refusal is without justification and is not reasonable. As a result of your actions you are considered to be making yourself unavailable for work and, as a consequence, normal pay is at risk.
“You are also now requested to leave LU premises given your refusal to work as required. Whether you choose to stay or go will not make any difference to LU’s decision with regard to your pay.”
It is not for individual bosses to unilaterally declare a particular task safe, nor insist that we be satisfied with a piece of paper saying it is. We have a right to insist on dynamic risk assessments, scrutinised by union safety reps, that satisfy us we can work safely. If we’re not satisfied, we have the right to request alternative work that we are confident is safe.
That is what drivers did today. We are not “refusing to work”... we are refusing unsafe work.
Senior LU bosses on trains and stations have insisted they will not make us work in conditions in which we feel unsafe. Apparently the message hasn’t filtered down to local managers at depots. If drivers who were sent home find that local managers’ threats to dock pay have been carried through, we need an all-grades, cross-union response. Being fined for insisting on our safety is not acceptable.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the new TfL bailout deal continues. As part of the government’s conditions for agreeing emergency funding, they are pushing for cutbacks: one thing they had in their sights was restricting the times at which disabled people could use their Freedom Passes to travel.
So disabled workers — already paid on average significantly less than non-disabled workers — would have to either pay to travel during the peak or be late for work and face the consequences.
Not surprisingly, this provoked objections from disabled people’s organisations, supported by disabled Tube workers through our unions.
Within a week, TfL management were issuing reassurances that disabled people’s Freedom Passes would not be restricted.
Now they have older people’s Freedom Passes in their sights. Perhaps loud objections will push them back on this as well.
There will undoubtedly be further ramifications from the bailout. In exchange for the £1.6 billion package, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has agreed to return the Tube to 100% service levels “as soon as possible”, and to a long-term review of TfL’s finances — which the Tory government will no doubt use to demand further cuts.
Khan also agreed that information on staff absences will be sent directly to the government — which can’t mean anything good for us as staff. Khan has also offered to increase fares by 1% above inflation, breaking an election pledge.
As part of the deal, government officials will now sit on the TfL board.
Another one of the orchestra of strings attached to the government financial bailout of TfL is that the company now has to report staff absence data to the government.
This is pretty obviously a precursor to ‘“improving” attendance figures by cracking the whip once we are back to ‘normal’ times.
But if the Covid-19 crisis has proved one thing, it is that attending work when you are sick can be deadly. It is indefensible for our current punitive attendance policy to be restored after the crisis, let alone for an even harsher one to be introduced.