London Underground workers vote for more strike action


London Underground staff in the RMT union have voted to continue with strikes in a dispute over pensions and job cuts, potentially adding to disruption in a summer of industrial action on the transport network.

More than 90% of the union’s members on the tube who voted, on a 53% turnout, backed further walkouts, as the RMT leadership continued to talk with Network Rail and train operating companies to resolve the national rail standoff.

The RMT was legally required to obtain support to renew its mandate for strikes, after the latest 24-hour stoppage on Tuesday closed virtually all tube services in the capital.

Transport for London (TfL) is seeking to cut just over 10% of frontline staff by not filling vacancies as they arise, as well as reviewing the pension scheme – a condition of the emergency funding agreed with the Department for Transport (DfT) after fare revenue dried up during the pandemic.

The DfT this week offered a further funding extension until 13 July, frustrating TfL and Sadiq Khan’s attempts to agree a long-term deal, with the deadline for financial support otherwise expiring tonight.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said the vote “proves that the arguments RMT has been making [are] endorsed by tube workers”, adding that “TfL and the mayor of London need to seriously rethink their plans”.

He added: “We are acutely aware of the funding cuts being foisted on TfL by the Westminster government. However, Mayor Sadiq Khan … should not be trying to sacrifice our members’ pensions and jobs to fit within budget restraints laid down by Boris Johnson.”

Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, said: “There are no proposals to change pensions or terms and conditions, and our proposals will ensure any reduction in roles is achieved through vacancy management, in line with our no compulsory redundancy agreement. We’re calling on the RMT to continue working with us.”

No further strike dates have yet been set.

The news came as talks continued between the RMT and Network Rail and 13 train operating companies in the national rail dispute, before this week’s third 24-hour walkout on Saturday.

Only about 20% of services around Great Britain are scheduled to run, and while many people have heeded advice to avoid travel and work from home during stoppages this week, rail operators anticipate busier trains.

With leisure travel recovering quicker than commuting since the pandemic, and people potentially more reluctant to abandon weekend plans, train firms have repeated their appeals to only travel if necessary. Most advance tickets can be used on alternative trains until Tuesday, or refunded.

Sources said that talks with Network Rail now involved the detail of the proposed maintenance reforms, but that the wider talks were in stalemate. The RMT has said that the wider issues cannot be resolved without government go-ahead or involvement, with train operators now on fixed contracts and several now under direct state control. Lynch said on Thursday that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, “needs to get in the room or get out of the way”.

More than 100 unions worldwide represented by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have signed a joint letter to Shapps, urging him to meet with unions – and expressing shock that rail services would be cut less than a year after Britain hosted Cop26 and argued for greener transport.

The ITF warned that the “world was watching this dispute play out”. Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary, said: “Grant Shapps must realise that the UK’s international reputation on industrial relations is at risk. If he remains unwilling to even speak with national unions, what hope does he think his government will have when it comes to engaging international unions as part of the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda?”

Other UK rail unions are set to enter the dispute. Drivers from Aslef will walk out on Croydon Tramlink this Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 June and on Greater Anglia on Saturday 2 July. The first results in a series of strike ballots by TSSA members, on Avanti West Coast, will come next week.

Airport workers for BA at Heathrow voted to strike while bus workers at Arriva are continuing an indefinite walkout in Yorkshire and will be balloted elsewhere in the north-west.

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Olivia Wilson
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