Shorter working weeks

LU pay fight: ballot now!

Published on: Fri, 11/10/2019 - 12:10

LU has now issued its “full and final” offer in the ongoing pay talks. The first thing to note is that “full and final” is meaningless jargon. The offer's only final when we accept it, or we give up the fight to improve it!

They're offering a four-year deal, with RPI + 0.2%, or £750 (whichever is higher), in year one, 1.4% plus a 30-minute reduction in the working week in year two, RPI + 0.2% in year three, and 1.4% plus a 30-minute reduction in the working week in year four. The bosses calculate that this reduction in the working week would equate to six additional banked rest days.

Remember: our demand is for a 32-hour week. We should be aiming for something more like an additional rest day every week, not one every two months! We also can't accept pay increases of 1.4% which are likely to be below inflation.

Tubeworker has been arguing for some time that our unions should have launched ballots for action. LU is not going to make meaningful concessions except under the pressure of action, so why the delay?

We've got a challenge ahead of us in terms of clearing the thresholds of the anti-union laws, but we should take courage from the fact that our last all-grades ballot, conducted in 2015 before the thresholds were implemented, would've cleared them had they been in place.

The longer we delay in balloting, the more we send signals of weakness and lack-of-confidence both to the employer and our own membership. If we want to win a better deal, we have to take action. It's a simple as that.

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Will Labour implement its 32-hour week policy on TfL?

Published on: Thu, 26/09/2019 - 11:42

The recent Labour Party conference in Brighton ratified policy in favour of a four-day, 32-hour week. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised that the average working week would be cut to 32 hours within a decade under a Labour government.

In London, we already have a (local) Labour government: Labour controls the mayoralty, and the Greater London Assembly, which administers TfL and its subsidiaries.

All four Tube unions demanded a four-day, 32-hour week as part of our pay claims. Our bosses are currently intransigent, committing only to a 30-minute reduction in the working week, at zero cost. Now Labour’s policy has shifted, we should demand it is implemented on TfL.

To press that demand, our unions must ballot for industrial action now. Two RMT branches, Bakerloo and Piccadilly and District West, have passed policies demanding an immediate ballot. Further delays only benefit the bosses.

When we strike, we should call on the Labour Party, which supports our demand, to unambiguously support the action we take to win it.

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LU’s latest offer still unacceptable: ballot for action now!

Published on: Sun, 18/08/2019 - 22:24

Ongoing pay talks have yielded a new offer from the company. They’re proposing a two-year deal, with a year one pay increase of RPI + 0.2%, with an RPI + 0.2% increase in year two minus the cost of implementing a 30-minute reduction in the working week.

This is entirely unacceptable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pay increase itself is inadequate, and insulting in the context of pay rises of up to 74% handed to senior managers. Secondly, we can’t accept the idea that we should have to finance a reduced working week from our own wages rather than the company’s profits. Thirdly, a 30-minute reduction in the working week simply isn’t enough to be meaningful. We need hours of our week, not minutes. Finally, the offer doesn’t address our other demands, including equalisation of staff travel facilities, a minimum flat-rate pay increase, or the equalisation of the CSA grade.

For all these reasons, we have to push on with plans to ballot for action to win a better deal.

However, the offer is, in a small but significant way, progress. It represents the first concrete acknowledgment by our bosses that they can’t settle with us without making some concession on working hours.

Their acknowledgment of that gives us an opportunity to push forward. We have to increase the pressure by balloting for strikes.

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Pay and conditions fight update

Published on: Tue, 28/05/2019 - 17:15

LU has now made a revised offer on pay and conditions, offering RPI + 0.1% this year, and RPI + 0.2% next year. There has been no movement on any union demand: for a reduced working week, for a flat-rate minimum for lower-paid staff, and more.

This offer needs to be completely rejected, and a dispute declared.

No-one should be in any doubt that strikes will be required to win a decent deal. We need to build for that now, and preparing for the hard work of achieving the required threshold in the ballot.

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LU pay: we need a positive, proactive campaign

Published on: Mon, 21/01/2019 - 19:08

RMT has now submitted its pay claim to LU; the claim is online on the RMT London Calling website, and can be read here.

It’s good that the union is publicising the full contents of the claim to all members, so we know exactly what it is we’re fighting for. It’s also good that the demands for a minimum flat-rate pay increase, which will be worth more to lower-paid grades, and the demand for a 32-hour week are prominently included.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether the union should’ve specified a figure in the claim. Tubeworker believes it should. Several RMT branch submissions to the consultation around pay called for a figure of £2,000. Having a clear, concrete, pay demand to fight for, rather than the somewhat vague and generic language in the claim, would give our pay fight more clarity and focus. If you agree, why not take a motion to your RMT branch proposing that the union submits an addendum to the claim specifying that our minimum demand is for flat-rate increase of £2,000.

What’s also key now is the kind of pay campaign we run. We’ve been late out of the gates on this one: lots of activists on the job were calling for the pay claim to be collated and submitted a lot earlier, so we might stand a chance of winning a new deal in time for the expiry of the current one in April. We were saying ”Start the pay fight now!” in May 2018!

Now that the claim has gone in, we shouldn’t let the company dictate the pace of negotiations by sitting on it, getting back to us in a few months, telling us they’re offering a 0.5% pay increase instead, whereupon we allow ourselves to be dragged into haggling over the company’s derisory offer.

Let’s have a positive, proactive campaign where we seek to win demands that we’ve decided for ourselves, rather than simply reacting to the bosses. The union should set a deadline for the company to say yes or no to our demands, and if they so no (as they almost inevitably will), we should declare a dispute and begin balloting. To stand the best chance of getting a result in that ballot, we need to start campaigning now: promoting the contents of the claim, producing workplace-specific propaganda explaining how each demand would improve conditions for different grades, and getting our fellow workers ready to fight.

We’ve had several years of fighting defensive battles to try to blunt the sharpest edges of management attacks. We’ve now get a chance to get back on the front foot. Let’s take it.

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We need more time away from work!

Published on: Mon, 21/01/2019 - 19:04

Recent studies have once again confirmed how poor the air quality in our workplaces is. Other studies have also reconfirmed that our workplaces are incubators for bacteria and disease. And on top of all this, studies have repeatedly shown that extreme shift working has a massively detrimental effect on health and can even shorten lives.

Let’s remember all that when the Evening Standard and other right-wing tabloids tell us how unreasonable it is that we’re fighting for a 32-hour, four-day week.

Improving our work/life balance could literally be a matter of life and death.

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Shorter Hours, Better Life

Published on: Thu, 21/06/2018 - 11:09

It’s a tough job, physically and mentally. Workload, anti-social and irregular hours, stress and trauma … all of this and more leaves many of us feeling exhausted even when we are not at work. We need more quality time away from the job.
There is plenty of research showing that shift work causes health problems, including increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It also affects our relationships and our mental well-being.
Full-time London Underground Ltd employees are now on a 35-hour week. We want this reduced to a 32-hour, four-day week!

No cut in pay or conditions
We want a shorter working week without ‘strings’. The benefits of working three hours less will be lost if we end up doing more for less when we are at work.
A cut in the full-time week without loss of pay will mean a rise in the hourly rate, which will increase part-timers’ wages even while their hours remain the same. So we will all benefit.
Of course we want a pay rise as well as a shorter working week, especially for lower-paid grades, but for many of us, a cut in hours is just as – or maybe even more – important.

Progress over time
Ever since rail workers formed trade unions, we have been fighting for shorter and more regular hours. Nearly a century ago, the 1919 national railway strike – involving both NUR (RMT’s predecessor) and ASLEF won a maximum eight-hour day and a levelling-up of wages.
Many of us have been on the Tube long enough to have worked forty-hour weeks when we started, and have fought as part of our unions to steadily cut that since then. Sometimes those shorter working weeks have come with more strings, sometimes with fewer.

Is it practical?
Some people think that the demand for a four-day week is unrealistic. But it is standard on the national railway!
Moreover, London Underground, along with many other employers, continually argues that technological advances make the job less labour-intensive and use that as a pretext to cut jobs. Why not instead cut hours? Then we will get the benefits of technology without sacrificing jobs.
So … Where LUL is proposing to cut jobs, let’s cut hours instead. For example, the new Hammersmith control centre, or the introduction of new signalling kit that needs less maintenance, can be staffed without any reduction in jobs if the working week is cut.
Where LUL has already cut jobs, for example on stations, staff have a heavier workload and inadequate staffing levels. So we want a shorter working week, and an increase in jobs to reverse the damage.
And where LUL has not (yet) cut jobs, for example in the driving grades, we can have a shorter working week and create new jobs. This will have the knock-on effect of boosting promotion opportunities and reducing unemployment.

An effective campaign
We can win this with a strategy that works. We can learn from what worked, and what didn’t work, in previous campaigns. For example, when drivers got their 35-hour week in 1996, they paid for it with a three-year pay freeze, and the cut in hours was largely achieved through shaving minutes off shifts: that was not ideal. When station staff got their 35-hour week ten years later, there were no overall job cuts and they got 52 days off, but they also got a ‘re-rostering’ that created some real howlers.
Learning from these experiences, the key features of a winning campaign are: to be confident in our case; to take strong industrial action; to refuse unacceptable compromises; and to be open about what is happening in talks.
Tubeworker will be supporting and reporting on this fight as it develops.

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Don't sacrifice the framework!

Published on: Thu, 18/01/2018 - 09:20

An Aslef leaflet is being circulated around train depots attacking RMT for "blocking" Aslef's "four day week" plan.

The plan, which was trialled on the Jubilee Line, involves changing the drivers' framework to allow for longer shift lengths and longer spent on the front of the train in order to compress existing working hours into four days. RMT has opposed the plan, arguing that to allow management to chip away at the framework would set a dangerous precedent. Aslef pose the issue as one of "choice", but amendments to the framework will affect all drivers, not just those who choose to work the "four day week" pattern.

After the trial on the Jubilee Line, RMT insisted that any roll-out of the plan should only happen following a referendum of all drivers. Aslef opposed this, demanding that LU roll the scheme out unilaterally.

Tubeworker is independent of any union, and believe that rivalry and conflict between unions only benefits the bosses. Ideally, we think there should be one industrial union across LU, but as long as several unions exist, we believe they should work together. However, we're not neutral on questions of industrial strategy, and we believe Aslef's plan would be bad for drivers. We think RMT's stance is right.

Unions should unite to fight for a real four day week - one that involves a reduction in working time, not an increase.

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Aslef strike off

Published on: Fri, 06/10/2017 - 19:28

What’s in the settlement Aslef called off Thursday’s strike for? Well, it’s not entirely clear.

Union reports to members say the four-day-week trial on the Jubilee Line will be "analysed", and if seen as unsuccessful, a "nine-day-fortnight" may be looked at instead. LU have also said that the current steps to reduce weekend working will continue after the 2015-2019 pay deal expires. Additionally, the company has reportedly agreed to allow three drivers per depot to move to "pro-rata four-day working", on top of existing agreements.

This is not quite the combine-wide rollout of the trial some as Aslef officials were looking for (and, it seems, called a strike for). As we’ve said before, Tubeworker isn’t wild about the model. It involves extending the maximum driving time, and we’re far from convinced that a “four-day week” that actually involves, in any given shift, working longer is worth having.

As the analysis and possible new trials continue, we want to see unions pushing back against changes to frameworks and parameters. That’ll be hard for Aslef to do, as they’ve already accepted the principle of longer driving time in exchange for the four-day week. So it may be down to rank-and-file Aslef members who don’t want nine and 10-hour shifts as standard to organise within their union to make their leaders change course.

What’s needed is a joint union dispute for work/life balance across all grades, demanding a 32-hour, four-day week for all.

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Aslef calls strike for 5 October

Published on: Mon, 25/09/2017 - 13:12

Aslef has called a strike for Thursday 5 October, in its dispute with LU over work/life balance issues for drivers. RMT is in dispute over the same issues, but is yet to ballot its driver members.

The dispute is a hangover from the 2015 pay settlement, which committed the company to explore ways of improving drivers' work/life balance. The company has dragged its feet since, and the only concrete development has been the "four day week" trial on the Jubilee Line. Aslef wants that model rolled out of the rest of the combine.

Tubeworker shares RMT's concerns about the Jubilee Line model. It has involved breaking drivers' framework to increase maximum time on the front, and our view is that "four day week" models that actually involve an increase, rather than a reduction, in working time should be rejected. It is a little perplexing that Aslef are making this their headline issue, when the model doesn't seem popular even amongst their own membership. RMT's position is that a referendum of drivers should take place before the model is expanded.

A joint union dispute over work/life balance is a great idea, but it should demand a reduction in working time. We'd also like to see it expand to cover other grades. Nevertheless, whether or not we agree with the exact approach Aslef are taking, not crossing a picket line is a bedrock principle of trade unionism. If the strike goes ahead, no trains should move. Tubeworker also reminds station staff at stations with attached train depots, where there will likely be picket lines, of that bedrock principle.

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