Socialist Worker

Tube workers strike over staffing and safety

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2624

Picketing at Arnos Grove

Picketing at Arnos Grove (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A strike saw hundreds of workers shut down a main transport route in London on Wednesday. 

Tube drivers on the Piccadilly line began a 48-hour strike over a host of issues which they say are endangering passengers and staff.

The line is a key route from Heathrow airport into central London. The strike began at 12 noon on Wednesday. 

RMT union members held picket lines at Arnos Grove, Northfields and Acton Town stations. 

They are set to follow this action with a further walkout at 8.30pm on Friday for five hours. The timing of the two strikes mean the service won’t have time to recover in between. 

The strike is about four key issues. 

In the first instance, strikers want bosses to hire more drivers—and they say low staffing levels mean they are being pressured into working more.

If delays happen while a driver is on duty, the service backs up—meaning they work longer shifts than they agreed to. 

“There’s no recovery built into the system”, driver Martin Page told Socialist Worker. 

Struggling

And driver shortage is making it hard for workers to get time off. “I’m struggling to book annual leave”, said Martin. 

“I’ve got a christening in two months, why should I miss an important family occasion?”

And he said shortages led to workers “not going home on time” and only receiving the minimum meal break of 30 minutes. 

Drivers perform a safety critical role, and are responsible for all passengers on board—sometime up to 1,000 at peak times. 

Martin said the fight for proper staffing, and an environment where drivers aren’t fatigued “is about passenger safety”.  

Carlos Barros has been a driver for 19 years and is RMT branch chair for over 100 members at Acton Town depot. He said a key issue is management behaviour. 

“Management have been pulling drivers aside and talking to them about a ‘non-agreed level of sickness’.”

Drivers perform a safety critical role, and are responsible for all passengers on board—sometime up to 1,000 at peak times.

He said these periods of sickness often followed a passenger collision. Counselling and time off work were necessary to deal with the these incidents, he said. 

“It affects drivers in a variety of ways. Sometime people just need time off to reflect, but some are unable to return to driving.”

And Martin said management doing this amounted to “people being interrogated—it’s harassment. The drivers are fit and at work, why are they looking at historical working patterns?”

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The Piccadilly line is notorious among drivers for poor working conditions, with strikers reporting that workers are transferring to other lines. 

Workers on the line have “been in constant industrial dispute for five or six years”, Carlos said. 

This strike follows a suspended 48-hour action in July—called off due to “significant progress” at Acas conciliation service talks. 

But the RMT union has accused Transport for London (TfL) bosses of reneging on the agreements reached in July. 

And Carlos says negotiations broke down earlier this week when TfL managers claimed they didn’t know what the issues are—despite written agreements.

Strikers were determined to keep up action for passenger safety and dignity in the workplace. 

“The ball's in their court,” explains Carlos. “But we’re the RMT and we’re not going to bullied by anyone."

All drivers spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity

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