London underground (LU) bosses are waging war on their employees’ safety rights.
Their latest attack comes on the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, when tube workers were hailed as heroes after saving lives.
LU management is threatening to withdraw workers’ right to refuse to work on the grounds of health and safety—an essential provision which can save lives.
In a letter seen by Socialist Worker, Gerry Duffy, the director of employee relations at LU, wrote to RMT union general secretary Bob Crow last week to criticise workers’ actions during a recent Tube Lines strike.
Hundreds of maintenance workers on the Piccadilly, Jubilee and Northern lines working for Tube Lines struck for 48 hours two weeks ago over jobs, working conditions, parity and pay.
The strike also involved workers at the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), which deals with emergencies and urgent repairs on the tube network.
Many employees refused to work as there were serious concerns about the qualifications of those working in the ERU during the strike, the staffing levels and their competency.
Duffy has written to Crow saying, “the behaviour of some RMT officials in encouraging LU employees to refuse to work was unacceptable”.
This “is likely to have constituted an inducement of unofficial, secondary industrial action by LU employees, for which your union would be liable,” he adds.
Duffy claims that the refusal to work is a breach of workers’ contracts and might make them subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal.
He also threatens to “consider the withdrawal of this procedure” if such action is repeated.
And to top it off he threatens the RMT with legal action if the union does not give him undertakings that “similar behaviour” will not occur.
Union activists believe that Duffy’s bluster is down to the huge success of the recent strike.
The solid action, and other workers’ refusal to work, had a huge impact on maintenance work done and affected the service, particularly on the Piccadilly Line.
“London Underground is panicking,” a tube worker told Socialist Worker. “It knows Tube Lines, which LU recently had to buy because it was failing, has left it in the lurch.
“The strength of the strike showed management there is a well-organised, combative workforce—not a subservient one.
“Bosses want huge cuts across the network—there could be 1,200 job losses at Tube Lines. But if we win this dispute it could knock the whole cuts package back. The stakes are very high.
“There are huge safety concerns, including the lack of track patrols and signal maintenance.
“With the ERU not working as well, there are many grounds for tube staff to refuse to work.”
The next strike by Tube Lines workers is due to begin at 7pm on Wednesday of next week.
The RMT union is also set to step up the fight against job cuts by balloting all its members on the tube for strikes. This will begin on Monday of next week.
There needs to be a big yes vote, which must be acted upon with haste by the union.
While the letter says the threats “have no impact on our employees statutory rights”, under the Health and Safety Act 1974 workers have the right to refuse to do something that isn’t safe without being threatened with disciplinary action.
LU’s own procedure states, “Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have the right to formally protest, free from fear of reprisal, where they are genuinely concerned for their safety or the safety of others because of any aspect of their work.”
Workers have every right to refuse to work if they feel that their safety, and that of the travelling public, is compromised.
RMT members working for Tube Lines are demanding:
No job losses
No imposition of working rosters
- Parity with workers employed by Metronet, the maintenance firm
- A one year pay deal