It’s a tough job, physically and mentally. Workload, anti-social and irregular hours, stress and trauma … all of this and more leaves many of us feeling exhausted even when we are not at work. We need more quality time away from the job.
There is plenty of research showing that shift work causes health problems, including increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It also affects our relationships and our mental well-being.
Full-time London Underground Ltd employees are now on a 35-hour week. We want this reduced to a 32-hour, four-day week!
No cut in pay or conditions
We want a shorter working week without ‘strings’. The benefits of working three hours less will be lost if we end up doing more for less when we are at work.
A cut in the full-time week without loss of pay will mean a rise in the hourly rate, which will increase part-timers’ wages even while their hours remain the same. So we will all benefit.
Of course we want a pay rise as well as a shorter working week, especially for lower-paid grades, but for many of us, a cut in hours is just as – or maybe even more – important.
Progress over time
Ever since rail workers formed trade unions, we have been fighting for shorter and more regular hours. Nearly a century ago, the 1919 national railway strike – involving both NUR (RMT’s predecessor) and ASLEF won a maximum eight-hour day and a levelling-up of wages.
Many of us have been on the Tube long enough to have worked forty-hour weeks when we started, and have fought as part of our unions to steadily cut that since then. Sometimes those shorter working weeks have come with more strings, sometimes with fewer.
Is it practical?
Some people think that the demand for a four-day week is unrealistic. But it is standard on the national railway!
Moreover, London Underground, along with many other employers, continually argues that technological advances make the job less labour-intensive and use that as a pretext to cut jobs. Why not instead cut hours? Then we will get the benefits of technology without sacrificing jobs.
So … Where LUL is proposing to cut jobs, let’s cut hours instead. For example, the new Hammersmith control centre, or the introduction of new signalling kit that needs less maintenance, can be staffed without any reduction in jobs if the working week is cut.
Where LUL has already cut jobs, for example on stations, staff have a heavier workload and inadequate staffing levels. So we want a shorter working week, and an increase in jobs to reverse the damage.
And where LUL has not (yet) cut jobs, for example in the driving grades, we can have a shorter working week and create new jobs. This will have the knock-on effect of boosting promotion opportunities and reducing unemployment.
An effective campaign
We can win this with a strategy that works. We can learn from what worked, and what didn’t work, in previous campaigns. For example, when drivers got their 35-hour week in 1996, they paid for it with a three-year pay freeze, and the cut in hours was largely achieved through shaving minutes off shifts: that was not ideal. When station staff got their 35-hour week ten years later, there were no overall job cuts and they got 52 days off, but they also got a ‘re-rostering’ that created some real howlers.
Learning from these experiences, the key features of a winning campaign are: to be confident in our case; to take strong industrial action; to refuse unacceptable compromises; and to be open about what is happening in talks.
Tubeworker will be supporting and reporting on this fight as it develops.