Up to two million commuters and tourists are facing travel disruption in London after transport unions threatened mass strike action despite being offered a pay rise and a cut to the working week.
Members of the main unions representing Tube drivers, station workers and support staff are proposing the first all-out strike on the London Underground for almost five years.
The action, led by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the train drivers’ union Aslef, threatens to lead to the complete shutdown of the Tube, which is used by about two million passengers a day.
Aslef, which represents 2,500 drivers, has already started balloting its members, with the result due in a fortnight. The RMT will ballot its 10,000-strong membership in the capital in the coming weeks.
It raises the prospect of a co-ordinated strike as early as April in a move that could be timed to hit the busy Easter fortnight, when the capital will be flooded with tourists as well as commuters.
Unions have rejected a pay offer worth more than 8 per cent over four years in addition to a guaranteed one-hour cut in the working week, reducing average hours from 35 to 34 by 2023. It also includes six days’ extra holiday.
Negotiations over the deal have been under way for 12 months. Unions ultimately want to push for a 32-hour four-day working week.
Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said that the London Underground had failed to produce a pay offer that “meets the very reasonable demands of the workforce”.
He appeared to personally target Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, who famously committed to “zero days of strikes” when he won power in the capital four years ago. Mr Khan faces re-election in May.
Mr Cash said: “After over a year of intensive talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement on Tube pay, RMT representatives are angry and frustrated that London Underground have now stalled that process and failed to come up with an offer that would fully recognise the efforts of their workforce day in and day out … It is not too late for the mayor, in this election year, to intervene and send his officials back to the table with a decent and responsible offer to settle this dispute.”
The last all-out strike on the capital’s underground network happened in the summer of 2015, when unions went on strike over the introduction of a night Tube service – running trains 24hours a day at the weekend. In January 2017, most stations in central London were also shut as part of another strike over ticket office closures.
Transport for London’s current pay offer to staff involves a 2.7 per cent rise – inflation plus 0.2 per cent – backdated to April last year. There would be a 1.4 per cent rise this coming financial year, then inflation plus 0.2 per cent next year and a further 1.4 per cent rise in 2022-23. In addition, there would be an additional six “rest days” by the fourth year of the deal and an hour-long cut to the working week.
In a members’ newsletter, the RMT said that the cut in working hours was “a step towards our long term demand of a four-day 32-hour week, but we still have a way to go”.
Finn Brennan, Aslef’s organiser on the Underground, said: “Members are balloting for industrial action across London Underground after the failure of management to agree a pay rise that was due in April 2019. Despite talks having dragged on for over a year, management is still not prepared to offer a guaranteed minimum pay rise as part of a proposed multi- year deal, or to deal with our claim for a reduced working week.”
A Transport for London spokesman said: “We have offered a four-year pay deal which guarantees above-inflation rises. It reflects and rewards the hard work our staff do on the network every day while remaining affordable in a difficult financial climate. We remain available to meet to discuss the outstanding issues and seek to avoid damaging strike action.”