Striking Tube workers insist shutting Underground is not driven by pay

·5-min read
Striking Tube workers insist shutting Underground is not driven by pay

Striking Tube workers have insisted their decision to shut the Underground is not driven by pay but the wish to keep the network safe for passengers.

RMT officials told the Standard the latest 24-hour stoppage - the fourth since the start of March - was purely about resisting plans to axe 600 station staff posts and protect their pensions.

It came as RMT general secretary Mick Lynch apologised to Londoners for the disruption but said there was “no choice” if the union wanted to stand up for its members.

He told the Standard: “The London Underground is completely shut down. It’s a total lockdown. All our members are out, and it’s a complete close-down.”

Mr Lynch said the union had “major problems” with Transport for London.

“They are saying they want to cut their pension contributions by a third, which will mean drastic reductions to our members’ benefits and a poorer life in retirement,” he said.

“They are also suggesting massive changes in working practices that will make our members’ lives unbearable in many cases. That will go on until we are able to get a settlement.

“The key to that is that the Government is holding Mayor [Sadiq] Khan to ransom. They have cut £2bn from the funding and he is in a position now where he is going to have to cut back on the bus network, cut many routes, and he is also talking about cuts to the Tube services that will have the effect of cutting one Tube line out of the system.”

Asked what he would say to Londoners struggling to get into work, due to the overlapping Tube and national rail strikes, Mr Lynch said: “We are really sorry for that. We don’t want to cause these problems but we feel we have got no choice. We feel we have been pushed into a corner and this is a defensive strike.

“They have got their tanks on our lawn. Last night we got compulsory redundancy notices instead of a pay offer from Network Rail, and everywhere we go we have got massive attacks. The railway pension scheme is being attacked, the London Underground pension scheme is being attacked.”

Mr Lynch said he believed Mr Khan had “sympathy for workers” and added: “I don’t think he wants to dilute the system or instinctively to attack our workers. But in order to get a [bailout] deal I’m afraid what he has done is put our members’ terms and conditions and their pension scheme on the altar of something that can be cut. We wish he hadn’t done that.”

Daniel Randall, assistant chair of the RMT Bakerloo branch, who was picketing outside a closed Oxford Circus station, emphasised the Tube strike - unlike the national rail strike - was not about pay.

He said: “We are striking because London Underground is attempting to cut staffing levels on stations by 600 posts and they’re attempting to impose worse terms and conditions, including our pension arrangements.

“We really see this as a fight not only for our jobs and our working conditions but also for the quality of the service that we provide to Londoners. We don’t believe that passengers want to travel on a Tube with 600 fewer frontline station staff to assist them.”

Paula McKenna, West End industrial rep for the RMT, said: “Since the pandemic, they are constantly attacking us, trying to change our jobs. We can’t change any more. We are being so flexible as it is. They are saying that nobody is going to lose their job but we have vacancies that are not filled, and they’re running [the network] on overtime at the moment.

“We are always working to minimum numbers. We never have enough staff to do our day-to-day tasks, like deal with passengers that have needs. If there is something that goes wrong we have to open up the gates and leave them unmanned. Ten years ago that wouldn’t have happened. But they have slowly chip-chipped away at us. We are literally cut to the bone now.”

She added: “I accept they have to save money. I think they should look elsewhere. Why attack the front-line staff? We came in throughout the pandemic. They could reduce fares. They could reintroduce Carnet [discounted books of tickets], anything to attract more customers. But they’re not looking at that. They’re looking at taking away staff from the stations.

“We had a four-year [pay] deal before the pandemic We didn’t have to strike over pay. It’s just about conditions and the 600 job losses.

“Staff do lose the day’s pay but the momentum is strong, because it’s going to not just affect me - who is nearly at pensionable age - but the younger generation coming through.

“We are doing it for them, so that they have the exact same pension as we had when we joined. We are all united in this together.”

Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, appealed to the RMT to get back round the negotiating table. He said nobody would lose their job - as the reduction in numbers will be achieved by not replacing staff who choose to leave - and said there were no formal proposals to change the TfL pension scheme.

The RMT is understood to be balloting its Underground members to seek a new mandate for further strikes, as its current six-month mandate runs out shortly. The ballot result is expected later this week.

Mr Lord said: “Our request to the RMT is to come and talk to us and let’s seek agreement.”

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