Monday, 28 July 2014

“Nortius Maximus his name was, hmmm, promised me the known world he did. I was to be taken to Rome, house by the Forum, slaves, asses’ milk, as much gold as I could eat. Then, he, having his way with me had... voom! Like a rat out of an aqueduct.”

Station staff must be feeling pretty much like Mandy from “Life of Brian”, back in May when the strikes were called off it seemed that RMT and TSSA had done rather well, no pay cuts, no one would have to reapply for their job, there would be discussions on how to minimize disruption with a station by station review of ticket office closures and staffing.   Now it seems that LUL actually meant something entirely different  with management insisting that the ticket offices and staffing levels are not up for negotiation.

As far as disruption goes RMT predict that of the 4720 staff that will be left after the shake up over 3000 will be moved from their current location which by anyone's standards is pretty disruptive.  1200 SAMFs and SACRs, mostly working in Zone 1 stations, will be moving to the outer Zones stations where they will be the only member of staff on duty while every CSA currently at the 125 Local stations will be heading in the opposite direction.

The unions asked exactly how they’d calculated staffing levels, eventually LUL coughed up their “Business Needs Schematic”, a formula constructed by some very expensive consultants and RMT have been kind enough to pass it on through their website.  It seems that any ticket hall where passengers need 18 seconds of assistance in a given 15 minute period, referred to as the “2% utilisation trigger”, requires a member of staff to be in attendance and if the “40% utilisation trigger” is reached, 6 minutes out of 15, then a second member of staff is needed.

Now here’s the twist; all 125 Local stations will be staffed by a lone CSS who LUL admit will only be available in the ticket hall 50% of the time because of their other supervisory duties.  The unions argue that means any ticket hall with 3 minutes of assistance needs a second member of staff which applies to every station during the peak.

The obvious answer is that the CSS would be available in the ticket hall during the peak and carry out their other duties during the rest of their 8 hour shift but anyone who has worked on stations knows that this is not how things work out.  If something needs to be done then the CSS would have to leave the ticket hall unstaffed for however long it took and the punters would have to fend for themselves; so much from customer service.

Another rather nasty twist buried deep in all this is that almost all the part-time positions, mostly staff that have childcare or similar issues, will be scrapped. It seems that the part-timers will be offered full time jobs, possibly miles away from their current location which if they are unable or unwilling to accept then they will have to apply for redundancy.  The slim ray of hope is that if the unions succeed with their claim that all Locals need a second member of staff during the peak those part-timers would offer LUL a cheaper alternative.

According to the unions LUL have admitted that the 953 job cuts were arbitrary and although there isn’t any further explanation of exactly what that means from reading other bits and pieces I think they are saying that the staffing levels do not reflect how busy individual stations are so my best guess is that they’re saying a station classified as Local A gets the same staff as every other Local A regardless of how busy it is.

On their website RMT have the breakdown of the how many staff there are currently work on each line and how many will be there after the reorganisation with each line then broken down into areas.  Every area will suffer some job losses and it seems that LUL’s earlier claim that busier stations would be getting more staff was false, even the six Gateway stations will have less staff.  The unions are also concerned that a lot of Supervisor jobs will be re-graded into management and as a non-operational grade they will no longer be under the remit of the Functional Council.

Unsurprisingly the biggest complaint is over pay, rather than all staff keeping the salary they are currently on as LUL seemed to indicate back in May it now transpires that in order to stay on the same money staff will be required to sit additional assessments with anyone failing to pass facing a pay cut after three years.  In addition they have to accept whatever position and location LUL offers them, if they decline a move to the other side of London then the same pay cut applies.

So apart from Local As being staffed by a CSS rather than a lone CSA1 almost nothing has changed from LUL's original plan.  Sadly while the unions are doing very well arousing the anger of staff they don't seem to be bothering to broadcast what all this reorganisation will mean to the travelling public, the only people who could possibly make LUL reconsider.  Admittedly the unions are never going to get much help getting their side across from the media who they seem perfectly content to simply regurgitate TfL press releases without question and in many cases are positively hostile to unions.

In reply to the unions’ complaint Phil Hufton, LUL’s Chief Operating Officer, said “The only way to resolve the issues raised is to continue talking and not threatening further industrial action”.  If the staff feel like Mandy from “Life of Brian” then he’s a Vogon from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  


Let’s hope he doesn’t want to read us some of his poetry………..

Friday, 25 July 2014

Oh dear, it seems that sometime next week I’ll be getting a little brown envelope from the Electoral Commission with a ballot paper inside asking me if I want to go on strike.

As well as many side issues the main area of contention is the treatment of sick TOps, it seems that management think if we are unfit to work as a TOp, even temporarily, they can “terminate” us any time they want but our position is that contractually we get 26 weeks sick pay with 13 weeks in redeployment.

ASLEF asked for a meeting with the Central Line bigwigs to try sort things out and they got round the table on Monday but the whole thing only lasted 10 minutes before ASLEF walked out in disgust.  Sadly this isn’t unexpected, as I’m sure anyone reading my blog will have noticed I’m less than impressed with the standard of management down here, Lord knows what the selection process is like but I suspect having no connection between the ears and the brain must be high on the list of desirable attributes.

If things follow the usual course we can expect a vitriolic attack in the Evening Standard about lazy train drivers holding London to ransom so that they can carry on skiving off because they’ve got the sniffles or have sprained their wrist trying to lift our overstuffed wallets.  LUL will say that the strike is unnecessary, be dragged kicking and screaming to ACAS where they’ll capitulate on everything and we can get back to the business of running a railway.

And some talking pile of warthog’s vomit will call for driverless trains.

On that subject Boris mentioned the “New Train for London” on LBC’s Vanessa Faultz Show as did LUL’s Director of Capital Programs David Waboso CBE (for services to transport and wasting shedloads of money on the Sub Surface Lines signalling upgrade) in the Standard saying how they’d be cooler than the sauna-like conditions our passengers are currently enjoying.  For some reason both of them forgot to mention when they’d be entering service and neither of the interviewers bothered to ask but according to TfL’s latest wish list “The Plan” the hope is that the first NTfL will appear on the Piccadilly in 2021/22.

I bet you feel cooler already.

So how are things on the Central Line?  Bloody awful.  We don’t have enough TOps to run the timetable, putting a train away early because there’s no one to relieve you has become pretty commonplace but in part that is masked by the number of trains developing faults while in service and having to be withdrawn to the depots and sidings.  The lack of “turnaround” time means that the smallest delay leads to late running and I’ve probably filled out more overtime slips in the last six months than I have in the previous ten years.

Wood Lane are a constant source of amusement/irritation, they seem to be in competition with each other on how many times they can say “eastbound” or “westbound” in a single announcement, I counted six a few days ago.  Occasionally there is confusion about which is EB and which is WB or sometimes we get no direction at all, simply left to deduce which trains are being given a “platforms and hold” from where the incident is.  Sometimes we’re left in the dark as to where the problem is or why we are being held which isn't helpful as we're required to make PAs to inform the passengers of the situation after 30 seconds and then keep them updated every 2 minutes.

Despite all that it’s still very nice to trundle up to EPP in CM with the cab door open although there haven’t any more Muntjac sightings.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

In my defence I did say that I have been rather absorbed with life outside of work recently but as Auxsetreq commented after my last post there is something going on.  Two weeks ago both Leytonstone and Western Electric branches voted to ask the ASLEF Executive Council to ballot for strike action on the Central Line. 

On Saturday I hastily jotted down the issues from the notices that have gone up at the depots -

- Incorrect recording and managing of staff errors

- Misuse and abuse of the Case Conference system

- Staff being asked to do overtime

- Prompt dispatch

- Management not dealing with late running issues

- Annual leave not being granted when asked for within the 28 days specified.

- Misinterpretation of LU Occupational Health and Doctors advice

- Timetable issues

- Failure to abide by local agreements

I was certainly aware that there was plenty of late running with the latest timetable and I’ve mentioned it here but for the rest I’ll admit I hadn’t heard anything at all nor can I offer any explanation of how things have reached the stage where we are considering strike action.

I would ask around but I’m on annual leave for the next two weeks, I've spent two days thoroughly enjoying doing absolutely nothing and the only reason I might go into work is to check on the goldfish.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Another period of silence from me mostly because I’ve been busy with other commitments (Old Mother shrugged continues to improve) but also because very little has happened or at least nothing that hasn’t happened before.  We still don’t have enough TOps to cover everything, there is a big problem with absence at one of the depots –it’s currently HAI’s turn - the number of faults on trains while they’re in service is still noticeably higher under the current timetable and there are power still supply problems at various locations.  One nasty one is on the EB approach to SHB where on several occasions all four units have lost motors leaving the train to coast into the platform at a snail's pace before it came to a stop and I could hit the reset button..

The only thing that stands out is the wildlife.  A few weeks ago up towards the rabbit kingdom between DEB-THB I was scanning the trackside for bunnies when I saw something that looked like a deer, about the size of a small dog or a fox.  I did a bit of checking online and found that there have been sightings of Muntjacs in Essex but last week halfway between SNA and LES on the WB I saw another, unmistakeably a small deer climbing up the embankment from the cable run.

Keep your eyes peeled on the EPP branch, animal lovers, there’s Muntjacs about.

Friday, 9 May 2014

I must admit I was surprised when RMT said they’d be going ahead with this week’s strike so the news that they’d called it off wasn’t unexpected.  From what is being said  they’ve got LUL to offer the SAMFs and CSAs a similar deal to the one TSSA announced for DSMs and SSs so no one will be facing a pay cut in 2018 if the get downgraded.  Even so Tuesday seemed eerily quiet, perhaps not everyone got the message that the strike was cancelled or maybe they’d not all recovered from the Bank Holiday.

Yesterday everything had gone horribly wrong before I booked on, a train had gone defective at LEY WB, it turned out the ATP controller had failed which meant it wasn’t going to move in ATO or CM so Wood Lane decided that the best thing to do was go to BEG in RM then reverse back over the crossover, a 6.5km trip at 15kph.  My first half was a simple LES-EAB-WHC but my train had been put away in WHC sidings so I was told to go there, bring it out on the EB and hand it over to whoever was relieving me for my meal break.

That would have worked fine except with the delays and disruption it took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to WHC.  I arrived 20 minutes after I was due to come out of the sidings and just over half an hour before I was due to pick up my second half which was possibly the only train running on time.  So my first train stayed in the sidings, I had the shortest allowable meal break and picked up my second half, WHC-NOR-LOU-NOA-HAI via NEP and then back on the cushions to LES.

When I reached NOR I was told to extend up to WER where the train would be taken off me, turned into another train, wait for the train that mine had been turned into and make that into my one.  When I got to WER the train I was to take over was at TCR WB and by the time I eventually left WER I should have been at TCR EB.  When I reached RUG the platform indicators showed the train as only going to NOR, I called up Wood Lane who said they’d spotted the mistake and I was to go to LES but shortly after they’d shortened the trip even further to LIS.

That all went perfectly, I went into the sidings at LIS and came out on the WB back on time.  I wasn’t too late getting to NOA but delays going back EB meant that when I was due to hand over at HAI I was only just arriving at LES.  Fortunately the TOp who was meant to be taking me off at HAI had only started their meal break so a spare had been sent to take me off and run the train round to WOO via HAI so after all that I got away a little earlier than expected.

Which was nice.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

I spent yesterday shuttling between LES and EPP, not quite as monotonous as the W&C or when I did HAI-NEPs during engineering work but after the third of fourth I was certainly heading for “Groundhog Day”.  There were a few RMT TOps skulking around the depot, not wanting to pop outside for a smoke in case their colleagues on the picket line spotted them and I suspect there will be a few more today.  There were a few mutters about switching to ASLEF and I’ve heard that membership forms are in short supply.

TSSA’s decision to stay at the table has damaged the strike's effectiveness, the station staff are despondent enough with the reorganisation, losing more money just doesn’t seem worth it.  The unions will eventually thrash something out with management, RMT will hail it as a great victory and take all the credit for themselves.  Things will get back to normal, staff will get shunted around, the ticket offices will close and then ……..

Fit for the Future: Trains.

To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee “You call that a strike?  THIS is a strike!”

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

And we’re off on the Great Strike of 2014 Part 2.  It seems that everyone decided to follow TfL’s advice and get home as soon as they could, the peak was extra busy with passengers cramming themselves on my train like it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic.  When I went back through the Pipe on my second half London seemed deserted but while other lines were reporting delays and serious delays due to strike action the Central seemed to be unaffected.

It was only as I approached NOA on the EB that Wood Lane told me to tip out at WHC, run empty to LES and then go back into service as all the Section 12 stations were closing down.  I don’t know if this was because they didn’t have enough staff or simply as a precaution in case the night duty Supers didn’t show up but after 22:00 Central London was shut down.

I tipped out at WHC, explained to the dozen or so passengers waiting on the platform what was going on and headed off empty across London.  At SHB there were three passengers on the platform looking hopefully as I approached, at HOP two passengers were being ushered out by a member of station staff but after that the platforms were deserted apart from the mice who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the absence of humans.

At STR there were a good two dozen people waiting as I sailed through the station but between LES and EPP I only picked up three passengers, one of which was a LOU TOp who’d stabled their train at WOO.  I put my train away at LOU just after midnight and caught the last train back to LES, all the other last trains were running so as far as train staff are concerned the Central Line seems to have been unaffected.  Things could be quite different when I get into work later today.

The only other thing I noticed yesterday was that there appears to be an upsurge in graffiti, the last LES train had been tagged and someone has been busy between SOW and SNA; they’ve even sprayed two of the billboards on the WB platform at SNA and one of the roundels on the west end of the EB.  I was off over the weekend but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t there last week, knowing that SNA is one of the stations that occasional gets left unstaffed I’m wondering if some little git noticed this and decided to do a bit of freestyle decorating.  Wonder how much unwanted paint will have been added after the strike?