London Underground: drivers set to strike over Night Tube in series of pre-Christmas walkouts

·5-min read
London Underground: drivers set to strike over Night Tube in series of pre-Christmas walkouts

The reopening of the Night Tube was on Thursday thrown into chaos when one of the main Tube unions ordered its members not to turn up for work.

The move also threatened to wreck the pre-Christmas party season with a series of weekend strikes planned across much of the “normal” Tube network.

The Night Tube had been due to restart in a fortnight, on the weekend of November 27, though only with services on two of its five lines – the Victoria and Central.

On Thursday evening the RMT union, in a major intervention, said it was resuming strike action that had been suspended at the 11th hour during the summer and ordered its members not to sign in for duty on the Night Tube from Friday November 26 and the three subsequent weekends.

But the scope of its proposed action goes well beyond just the Night Tube services and will affect the Victoria, Central, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines on a mixture of days and weekend evenings.

The announcement threatens to wreck hopes that the resumption of through-the-night services at weekends – followed by the reopening of the Night Overground on December 17 - would deliver a huge festive boost to the capital’s beleaguered night-time economy.

It also delivers a blow to demands for the return of the Night Tube to make it easier for women to get home safely late at night. More than 150,000 people had signed a petition demanding the restart of services.

The strike dates announced by the RMT would begin with a 24-hour walkout on all five Night Tube lines - the Victoria, Central, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly - starting from 430am on Friday November 26.

This would be followed by action on the Central and Victoria lines from 830pm the following day, Saturday November 27, until 430am on Sunday November 28.

Similar 830pm-430am walkouts would be staged on the Central and Victoria lines on both the Fridays and Saturdays of the two subsequent weekends, December 3-4 and December 10-11, and on Friday December 17.

The action would conclude on Saturday December 18 - the Saturday before Christmas, and probable busiest shopping day - with a 24-hour walkout on all five lines again, starting at 430am.

The Night Tube action is separate to a potentially more disruptive dispute relating to the pensions of TfL staff, which unions fear are under threat as a result of Government demands for TfL to balance its books as a condition of the bail-outs it has received to keep services running during the pandemic.

Earlier this week the drivers’ union Aslef said 98 per cent of members backed strike action to protect their pensions, though no dates for walkouts have been announced.

The RMT said today that the negotiations with TfL over staffing the Night Tube had resulted in “unacceptable and intolerable demands” on its members.

Pre-pandemic, the Night Tube relied on about 200 part-time staff. But these posts were axed and Night Tube drivers integrated into the regular Tube workforce. Union bosses say staff are now being told to work Night Tube shifts, causing disruption to their work-life balance.

TfL said that drivers on the five Night Tube lines would only be expected to work up to four Night Tube shifts a year.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “No one has worked harder to ensure a safe environment for women on London Underground than the RMT. While Tube bosses have axed staff and left stations routinely unstaffed, with all of the obvious risks, we have campaigned relentlessly for the front line, physical ‎presence of visible staff on stations and platforms. We are now being repaid by the imposition of working arrangements that would wreck the work-life balance of our members.

“All of this was avoidable if the Tube management hadn’t axed dedicated Night Tube staff and perfectly workable arrangements in order to cut staffing numbers and costs. It’s that action which has led us to make today’s announcement.

“RMT supports the reintroduction of the Night Tube but we know full well that prior to its suspension during the pandemic it was a magnet for violent, abusive and anti-social behaviour. The Mayor and his officials cannot ignore that fact and the hard reality that it’s RMT members who made it a success in the first place. They now feel totally betrayed.

“We warned months ago that slashing 200 Night Tube Train Driver positions would create a staffing nightmare and LU need to start facing up to that reality. The union remains available for talks.”

Nick Dent, director of London Underground customer operations, said: “We are disappointed that the RMT is threatening London with this unnecessary action.

“The positive changes to Tube driver rosters have provided greater flexibility for drivers as well as permanent work and job certainty, something welcomed by all other unions.

“We have been meeting with the RMT for a number of months through ACAS to try and resolve their issues and we remain open to talking further.”

Today the London Assembly passed a motion from Tory member Emma Best calling for Mayor Sadiq Khan to set dates for the reopening of the three other Night Tube lines – the Northern, Piccadilly and Jubilee.

Sadiq Khan, said: “I know how important the return of the Night Tube is to London’s night-time economy, to our city’s recovery and to the confidence and safety of everyone travelling home at night, particularly women and girls.

“That is why I’m so determined to re-start night services. The unnecessary strike action threatened by RMT would delay many Londoners having another option to travel home safely at night and would hold our city back at a time when our culture and hospitality sectors have been devastated by the pandemic.

“I call on the RMT to call off these strikes, come back to the table and work with TfL to bring back full Night Tube services on these lines.”

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