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.