Shorter working weeks

Fight for workers' control of shift allocation

Published on: Thu, 26/03/2020 - 15:56

With a massively reduced service in place, many workers are asking whether the company's instruction for all staff who are not self-isolating or off sick to report for duty as normal really makes sense. Having more staff than necessary on a station or at a depot makes distancing harder. It puts drivers, station staff, and engineers are greater risk than office staff, who are largely able to work from home.

Workers' control of shift allocation could ensure that staff are rostered as necessary to guarantee the safe running of the service, but in a way that keeps the number of staff who have to travel into work each day to a minimum, and maximises time off - in effect, a reduction in the working week.

There's already a precedent on the job for workers' control of shift allocation, via "syndicates" (aka "mafias") in train depots. Extending that principle to other parts of the job, so the staff actually working the shifts could oversee and plan the allocation, and agreeing a reduced working week for the duration of the pandemic, is an urgent necessity.

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Only industrial action can force major concessions on LU pay/conditions

Published on: Tue, 21/01/2020 - 16:01

Our current deal on pay and conditions on London Underground expired in April 2019, so we’re the better part of year overdue. All four unions submitted claims based on a range of demands, including a reduction in the working week to 32 hours. Negotiations began formally in February 2019, and have continued for nearly a year. LU has proposed various offers, and at the last set of negotiations with our unions, in December, proposed an either/or offer: they want us to pick between two four year deals, one of which offers RPI + 0.2% pay rises in years one and four, and 1.4% pay rises and 30 minutes off the working week in years two and three (equivalent to three additional rest days per year). The second, newer offer, is a “pay only” deal, offering RPI + 0.2% pay increases in all four years, with no concessions on any other element of the unions’ claims. Both offers include a £750 flat-rate cash minimum in year one of the deal.

All unions had formally (and, in our view, rightly) rejected the former deal (the one including the reductions in the working week), primarily because, by decoupling the pay increase from RPI in years two and four, it risked amounting to a pay cut. But for many of us, that wasn’t the only objection; the deal also didn’t go anywhere near far enough in terms of improving work/life balance and guaranteeing more quality time away from work.

Discussions are now taking place within unions about the newer offer. Tubeworker believes the newer offer is also entirely unsatisfactory, as, while it guarantees (very-slightly) above inflation pay increases, it offers no improvements to working conditions. With these negotiations taking place in the run-up to a mayoral election, we have significant potential leverage. It would be a huge missed opportunity to not even attempt to take action to win concessions on working hours.

We maintain our view, which we have held all along and frequently reiterated, that our unions should ballot all members across LU for industrial action to win a better deal. That was always a challenge, due to restrictive anti-union laws and their arbitrary ballot threshold. Delays in launching a ballot have created additional challenges; a ballot needs preparation - carpeting the job with propaganda, regular workplace visits, generally stirring things up and giving members ownership over the campaign. All our unions should’ve been doing that work consistently since their pay claims were submitted, in early 2019, or ideally even earlier. At best it’s happened patchily and in a very stop-start way.

Union negotiators have harried LU bosses in talks, and pushed them on a number of issues. But without mass collective action by LU workers to stop the job, it was never going to be possible to secure major concessions. Each union will now be deciding its own strategy. As difficult a task as it may seem, we still think we need ballots. Not balloting effectively means accepting a substandard deal that meets none of our claims - what’s the point of discussing demands and submitting a pay claim if we just accept an offer that comes nowhere near them?

LU says its current offer is "final", but it also said its plans to extend train preparation schedules were fixed... until the threat of strikes by fleet workers forced their abandonment. It also said it had no money for an engineering fix for excessive track noise... until the threat of strikes by drivers led to the discovery of £10 million for new work on the track. Whatever happens, we need to learn lessons. First and foremost is to remind ourselves that no major improvements can be achieved without workers taking collective action.

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Justice for Station Staff!

Published on: Tue, 14/01/2020 - 22:50

RMT is now planning a new “Justice for Station Staff” campaign, bringing together a small, focused number of key issues affecting station workers into a single fight back. These issues include ending lone working; reversing or resisting two-tier workforce models (within the CSA grade, and the new proposal to create a new grade in the revenue department); demanding parity with drivers for Boxing Day payments; and auditing staffing levels and places of safety across the job to mitigate the risk of workplace violence.

Tubeworker fully supports the idea of a new campaign for station workers’ rights. This can also be tied in with the RMT’s existing “Staff Our Stations” campaigns, which up to now has mainly focused on staffing levels at mainline stations. A vibrant campaign of propaganda around these issues, alongside meetings, rallies, protests, and other actions, should build towards an industrial action ballot if LU doesn’t meet our demands.

We should also put demands around work/life balance, including for a 32-hour week, as part of this campaign if we end up not achieving these demands via a wider fight on LU pay.

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LU pay fight: ballot now!

Published on: Fri, 11/10/2019 - 12:10

LU has now issued its “full and final” offer in the ongoing pay talks. The first thing to note is that “full and final” is meaningless jargon. The offer's only final when we accept it, or we give up the fight to improve it!

They're offering a four-year deal, with RPI + 0.2%, or £750 (whichever is higher), in year one, 1.4% plus a 30-minute reduction in the working week in year two, RPI + 0.2% in year three, and 1.4% plus a 30-minute reduction in the working week in year four. The bosses calculate that this reduction in the working week would equate to six additional banked rest days.

Remember: our demand is for a 32-hour week. We should be aiming for something more like an additional rest day every week, not one every two months! We also can't accept pay increases of 1.4% which are likely to be below inflation.

Tubeworker has been arguing for some time that our unions should have launched ballots for action. LU is not going to make meaningful concessions except under the pressure of action, so why the delay?

We've got a challenge ahead of us in terms of clearing the thresholds of the anti-union laws, but we should take courage from the fact that our last all-grades ballot, conducted in 2015 before the thresholds were implemented, would've cleared them had they been in place.

The longer we delay in balloting, the more we send signals of weakness and lack-of-confidence both to the employer and our own membership. If we want to win a better deal, we have to take action. It's a simple as that.

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Will Labour implement its 32-hour week policy on TfL?

Published on: Thu, 26/09/2019 - 11:42

The recent Labour Party conference in Brighton ratified policy in favour of a four-day, 32-hour week. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised that the average working week would be cut to 32 hours within a decade under a Labour government.

In London, we already have a (local) Labour government: Labour controls the mayoralty, and the Greater London Assembly, which administers TfL and its subsidiaries.

All four Tube unions demanded a four-day, 32-hour week as part of our pay claims. Our bosses are currently intransigent, committing only to a 30-minute reduction in the working week, at zero cost. Now Labour’s policy has shifted, we should demand it is implemented on TfL.

To press that demand, our unions must ballot for industrial action now. Two RMT branches, Bakerloo and Piccadilly and District West, have passed policies demanding an immediate ballot. Further delays only benefit the bosses.

When we strike, we should call on the Labour Party, which supports our demand, to unambiguously support the action we take to win it.

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LU’s latest offer still unacceptable: ballot for action now!

Published on: Sun, 18/08/2019 - 22:24

Ongoing pay talks have yielded a new offer from the company. They’re proposing a two-year deal, with a year one pay increase of RPI + 0.2%, with an RPI + 0.2% increase in year two minus the cost of implementing a 30-minute reduction in the working week.

This is entirely unacceptable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pay increase itself is inadequate, and insulting in the context of pay rises of up to 74% handed to senior managers. Secondly, we can’t accept the idea that we should have to finance a reduced working week from our own wages rather than the company’s profits. Thirdly, a 30-minute reduction in the working week simply isn’t enough to be meaningful. We need hours of our week, not minutes. Finally, the offer doesn’t address our other demands, including equalisation of staff travel facilities, a minimum flat-rate pay increase, or the equalisation of the CSA grade.

For all these reasons, we have to push on with plans to ballot for action to win a better deal.

However, the offer is, in a small but significant way, progress. It represents the first concrete acknowledgment by our bosses that they can’t settle with us without making some concession on working hours.

Their acknowledgment of that gives us an opportunity to push forward. We have to increase the pressure by balloting for strikes.

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Pay and conditions fight update

Published on: Tue, 28/05/2019 - 17:15

LU has now made a revised offer on pay and conditions, offering RPI + 0.1% this year, and RPI + 0.2% next year. There has been no movement on any union demand: for a reduced working week, for a flat-rate minimum for lower-paid staff, and more.

This offer needs to be completely rejected, and a dispute declared.

No-one should be in any doubt that strikes will be required to win a decent deal. We need to build for that now, and preparing for the hard work of achieving the required threshold in the ballot.

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LU pay: we need a positive, proactive campaign

Published on: Mon, 21/01/2019 - 19:08

RMT has now submitted its pay claim to LU; the claim is online on the RMT London Calling website, and can be read here.

It’s good that the union is publicising the full contents of the claim to all members, so we know exactly what it is we’re fighting for. It’s also good that the demands for a minimum flat-rate pay increase, which will be worth more to lower-paid grades, and the demand for a 32-hour week are prominently included.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether the union should’ve specified a figure in the claim. Tubeworker believes it should. Several RMT branch submissions to the consultation around pay called for a figure of £2,000. Having a clear, concrete, pay demand to fight for, rather than the somewhat vague and generic language in the claim, would give our pay fight more clarity and focus. If you agree, why not take a motion to your RMT branch proposing that the union submits an addendum to the claim specifying that our minimum demand is for flat-rate increase of £2,000.

What’s also key now is the kind of pay campaign we run. We’ve been late out of the gates on this one: lots of activists on the job were calling for the pay claim to be collated and submitted a lot earlier, so we might stand a chance of winning a new deal in time for the expiry of the current one in April. We were saying ”Start the pay fight now!” in May 2018!

Now that the claim has gone in, we shouldn’t let the company dictate the pace of negotiations by sitting on it, getting back to us in a few months, telling us they’re offering a 0.5% pay increase instead, whereupon we allow ourselves to be dragged into haggling over the company’s derisory offer.

Let’s have a positive, proactive campaign where we seek to win demands that we’ve decided for ourselves, rather than simply reacting to the bosses. The union should set a deadline for the company to say yes or no to our demands, and if they so no (as they almost inevitably will), we should declare a dispute and begin balloting. To stand the best chance of getting a result in that ballot, we need to start campaigning now: promoting the contents of the claim, producing workplace-specific propaganda explaining how each demand would improve conditions for different grades, and getting our fellow workers ready to fight.

We’ve had several years of fighting defensive battles to try to blunt the sharpest edges of management attacks. We’ve now get a chance to get back on the front foot. Let’s take it.

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We need more time away from work!

Published on: Mon, 21/01/2019 - 19:04

Recent studies have once again confirmed how poor the air quality in our workplaces is. Other studies have also reconfirmed that our workplaces are incubators for bacteria and disease. And on top of all this, studies have repeatedly shown that extreme shift working has a massively detrimental effect on health and can even shorten lives.

Let’s remember all that when the Evening Standard and other right-wing tabloids tell us how unreasonable it is that we’re fighting for a 32-hour, four-day week.

Improving our work/life balance could literally be a matter of life and death.

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Shorter Hours, Better Life

Published on: Thu, 21/06/2018 - 11:09

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.

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