London Tube strike threat increases after union members vote in protest at job cuts

·6-min read
The threat of further strikes on the Tube has risen  (AFP via Getty Images)
The threat of further strikes on the Tube has risen (AFP via Getty Images)

The threat of further strikes on the Tube has increased after union members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in protest at job cuts and threats to pensions.

Almost 94 per cent of the RMT members who voted in the ballot backed going on strike or taking industrial action short of a walk-out, the union said on Monday afternoon.

This is separate to its long-running dispute over the staffing of the Night Tube, which could see disruption to the Victoria and Central lines for every Friday and Saturday night until June.

The ballot was ordered after Transport for London revealed unprecedented plans to axe between 500 and 600 posts on the Underground to save cash.

Union leaders are now in discussion over tactics, with the possibility of the RMT co-ordinating any walk-outs with Aslef and TSSA members.

One source said the “mandate was in the bag” – meaning the unions feel they have a strong hand in negotiations with TfL as they seek to prevent job cuts and reductions to the employer’s contribution to staff pension pots.

The union says it will take “whatever action is necessary” to prevent staff paying the price for the financial crisis at TfL that has been caused by fares income plummeting as a consequence of the pandemic and Government advice or orders to work from home.

TfL’s aim is to reach the target by not filling the 250 vacancies that exist at present, and then not replacing staff who decide to leave, rather than imposing compulsory redundancies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch claimed TfL’s financial crisis had been “deliberately engineered by the Government” to drive a cuts’ agenda which would lead to cuts in jobs and services and threaten the working conditions of staff.

He said: “The ballot has now closed and the union is considering the result and what action to put on.

“It must never be forgotten that these are the same transport staff praised as heroes for carrying London through covid for nearly two years, often at serious personal risk, who now have no option but to rise up and defend their livelihoods.

“The politicians need to wake up to the fact that transport staff will not pay the price for this cynically engineered crisis and we will coordinate a campaign of resistance with colleagues from other unions impacted by this threat.”

Andy Lord, managing director of London Underground, said: “The devastating impact of the pandemic on TfL finances has made a programme of change urgently necessary and we have been working with our staff and trade union colleagues for a number of months as proposals are developed.

“Nobody has or will lose their jobs as a result of the proposals we have set out and there are no current plans to change the TfL pension or terms and conditions.

“We’re calling on the RMT to work with us constructively, to avoid any industrial action which would damage TfL and London’s recovery, as we ensure London Underground is efficient and financially sustainable so it can continue to serve Londoners and support its staff.”

The Standard understands that 5,219 of the 10,084 RMT members entitled to take part in the ballot decided to vote.

Of these, 4,900 voted “yes” to taking action and 307 voted “no”. Twelve ballots were spoiled.

The turnout was 51.7 per cent. By comparison, Mayor Sadiq Khan was re-elected last May after a 42 per cent turnout of London voters.

The strike threat came as TfL announced that its finance chief Simon Kilonback had decided to quit, in the wake of dire warnings about a “brain drain” of executives at the crisis-hit organisation.

Heidi Alexander, the deputy mayor for transport, who oversaw TfL on a day-to-day basis for Mr Khan, quit City Hall last month.

Quitting: TfL finance chief Simon Kilonback (TfL)
Quitting: TfL finance chief Simon Kilonback (TfL)

Mr Kilonback was central to TfL’s efforts to secure bail-outs from the Government to keep the Tube and buses running at a time fares revenue plummeted to barely five per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

He had spent 12 years at TfL including the last four as its chief finance officer, latterly earning £315,000 a year.

His departure was seen by commentators as indicative of the challenges at the top of TfL as it battles a never-ending series of Government demands.

Last November he warned that the financial crisis was so great that TfL was having to consider closing an entire Tube line due to the lack of Government support, including for its long-term capital investment programme.

He will leave TfL in April to become chief finance officer of G.Network, a broadband provider with a focus on London.

TfL commissioner Andy Byford said: “The contribution of the CFO to organisations like TfL often goes without fanfare. But the challenges we have faced as an organisation and the absolute centrality of efficiency within our business have meant that Simon’s phenomenal contribution has been plain for all to see.

“He leaves TfL a more efficient and effective organisation than ever before and has put in the most remarkable of shifts to stabilise TfL through the ravages of the pandemic and to set us on a path to future financial sustainability. His work will leave a lasting important legacy from which we will continue to build and we thank him for everything he has done.”

TfL’s latest bail-out has been extended by the Government until February 4 but its long-term funding remains unresolved.

Mr Khan has made several proposals to help achieve the Government requirement that TfL becomes financially sustainable by April 2023, including adding £20 a year to council tax bills for the next three years.

The review of the TfL pension scheme was a requirement of TfL’s June 2021 Government bail-out. Former TUC chief Sir Brendan Barber is leading the review at the request of the mayor.

The review remains ongoing and no recommendations have yet been made.

An independent report previously commissioned by Mr Khan prior to the pandemic found that TfL’s pension scheme was “expensive and unreformed” and could generate £100m a year in savings if brought into line with National Rail or the civil service.

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