Socialist Worker

Tube workers

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1923

NEXT TIME you see lurid tabloid headlines about “union bully boys” holding tube passengers to ransom, remember the name Joanne White.

The RMT rail union has launched a major campaign to defend the station assistant who was sacked after she was assaulted at work by a passenger.

She was hit on 21 April at St James’s Park station with a heavy manual gate, and stayed on duty despite suffering swelling in her left arm.

She was at work the following day but was unable to continue, and was sent home. After a visit to hospital she was advised to take a week off work.

Over the previous eight months she had had a 100 percent attendance record.

On returning to work she had two “return to work interviews”, even though she had been told she would not need one as she was the victim of an assault at work.

She found the second was so intimidating that two supervisors had to comfort her.

Joanne put in a grievance about her duty station manager, Dan Matthews. She was then invited to a meeting with a higher manager. She was told that as she had a police caution (issued in 1999!) they were going to “have to let her go”.

At her appeal, reference to the caution was deleted, but four hours later she was told that because of “unsatisfactory references” her sacking was being upheld.

The appeal ruled that, although her sacking was wrong, she would stay sacked because she had “failed her probation”.

But she already had a letter showing she had passed her probationary period, signed by her acting duty station manger.

Twenty of her colleagues (out of 135) have written character references in her support.

London Underground management has responded by interrogating staff to find out if they followed the union’s call to send letters of protest over the sacking to London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Other staff have made complaints of harassment against the same manager at the centre of Joanne’s case.

He has not been suspended, which is the procedure management adopt with workers.

The collapse of incredible allegations against another female underground worker, Alix Wood, has underlined union activists’ determination to win Joanne’s case.

Alix Wood was arrested, body searched, kept in custody for seven hours, suspended from duty for eight weeks, banned from London Underground property and charged with the theft of her uniform.

But the charges were dropped last week after British Transport Police failed to produce any evidence against her, or even the hat she is supposed to have been trying to sell.

While British Transport Police and London Underground management were pursuing this and other cases, assaults on staff have risen by 29 percent.

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Wed 13 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1923
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