London Underground strike off: doors open to avoiding national action?

A potentially damaging strike on London’s Underground, scheduled for Friday 3 June, has been called off. Negotiations between the staff of union RMT and management company London Underground Limited (LUL) have reached an agreement over a staff welfare issue. With Friday designated as a special public holiday in the UK, the strike would have significantly impacted on celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The union RMT has said that “significant progress” has been made in talks with LUL, and has called off their action, which would have seen staff at Euston and Green Park stations walk out on the eve of the Jubilee weekend. The dispute is not connected to the call for national action, for which the RMT received an overwhelming mandate from their 40,000 members. Hopes are high though that this is an indicator to avoiding that action, which would decimate services all over the UK.

A step closer to resolution

A bitter dispute on the London Underground, where staff say they have faced bullying and intimidation from a single manager for years, is a step closer to resolution. It is a notable turn-around from what had become a seemingly intractable breakdown of industrial relations. Nevertheless, following intense negotiations between RMT and tube bosses, an agreement was reached to have a review with union involvement to deal with the bullying issue.

A cautious welcome for a thawing of relations on the London Underground may signal resolution in the distance for the expected national strike in the UK

Industry watchers are looking on this as a glint of hope that national action may be avoided. That national dispute, which the RMT claims is over a critical reduction in safety cover, as well as pay and conditions of work, could begin as early as mid-June. A ballot fo members was overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, but legislation in the UK requires trades unions to give at least two weeks notice to employers.

Avoiding action is the preferred option

However, the RMT remains resolute, and have even called for other trades unionists to take strike action over the common issues of rising inflation and stagnant wages. Speaking to Times Radio in the UK over the weekend, the RMT’s Eddie Dempsey said that his union had been in talks with the industry for more than eighteen months prior to the national ballot. “In the coming period if we can’t get a settlement, we know that the industry will push on with a series of reforms that will prove a huge detriment to our members”, he said. “we have dealt with change in the rail industry for ever. We want to see our members stay in the industry if they want to and leave the industry if they want to in a way that looks after them.”

On the Underground though there is progress. RMT has remained robust though. It says if no immediate improvements are seen and the review does not lead to a just settlement, then strike action for a different day will be called. Dempsey concentrated on the pay and conditions element of the national call for action. “our members have an expectation on us to look after them in a way that they expect and we have to rise to that challenge.” He concluded that the ballot had prompted a series of discussions to try and thrash out a deal without strike action, which, he said would be the union’s preferred outcome.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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