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Lazy, greedy tube drivers – anyone could do their job!

Phil Graham, from Bunhill ward, takes us behind the scenes of the protracted negotiations with Tfl / London Underground about the introduction of Night Tubes - announced by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, without giving any thought to the impact to tube workers.

We’ve heard this, and more, since the Tube Unions announced strike days, but here’s a brief history of how we got to that stage.

In December 2013, the Mayor of London announced the coming of the Night Tube. By doing that without consultation with the people who would have to operate the system, he changed their terms and conditions, and their contracts.

From the date the Night Tube was announced, all four Trades Unions, ASLEF, TSSA, RMT and UNITE, asked for talks on seeking agreements on how it would work. London Underground (LU) refused to talk until April 2015, five months before the proposed implementation date. In addition, LU insisted on lumping the negotiations together with overdue talks on pay and conditions. There would be no pay deal without agreement on the Night Tube.

When talks finally started, the unions discovered that they were dealing with a new negotiating team, the members of which had a combined length of service at TfL/LU of only four years. Most of the team had worked at Virgin Air, where they had tried – and almost succeeded – in breaking the unions.

Talks carried on for some months with no headway until LU, again without consultation, issued timetables and staff rosters, with the intention of forcing them through. That was when the unions balloted their members and with 98% in favour of action staff took two strike days. Drivers, station staff, controllers, managers and depot staff all took action. Management agreed to to restart talks and the Night Tube was postponed.

We seemed to be making progress until LU backtracked on promises made and, from 10 November, ignored requests for further talks. Over Christmas, an LU spokesman told the media that we were close to a breakthrough, following constructive talks; but there had been no talks!

LU then advertised for part-time drivers to work the Night Tube, without agreement on their contracts or terms and conditions. While the unions don’t object to part-time workers, it has to be done properly, through negotiation. The unions are wary of a two-tier workforce, with differing conditions, that can undermine each other and, possibly, be exploited in what are almost zero-hour contracts. 

The unions had no option but to announce further strike dates. TFL then invited the unions back to talks and, after a couple of days, made a much-improved offer, some of which follows:

  • above-inflation pay rise for four years, backdated to April 2015;
  • Night Tube to be operated by part-time drivers, employed under existing agreement and terms and conditions;
  • a freeze on the amount of weekend duties and a commitment to reduce them over the life of the deal;
  • or those who want it, a commitment to a 36-hour, four-day week, and two-, three- and four-day reduced-hours weeks.

There were many other concessions made and the unions have postponed strike action so that we can put the offer to our members for approval. This new deal shows the hard work and solidarity of the trade union movement and what it can achieve.

It also shows us all why we must fight every section of the government’s proposed Trade Union Bill.

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