Saturday 28 February 2015

Okay things just got weird, RMT have announced a strike in support of AMcG with TOps being asked not to book on for duty between 21:30 on Saturday 7 March and 03:59 Sunday 8 March.  As all the late turns will have started and the early turns don’t book on until around 06:00 this is basically a strike by the night shifts.   I’m not sure about the rules regarding strike action but I’m guessing that if they don’t hold a strike within a certain time after the vote in favour they have to re-ballot but even so it’s a bit bizarre.

Meanwhile over at the pay talks LUL have announced that they are trying to include Night Tube in the negotiations which makes sense as it’s going to need big changes to our terms and conditions.  The downside is that by combining the two issues into one LUL might be hoping to get away with giving us less in exchange for our agreement and also they can now drag things out until August.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

As a lifelong West Ham fan I’m saddened but not surprised by the behaviour of some of my fellow supporters with the recent anti-Semitic chanting before the game against Spurs on Sunday.  In the past I’ve heard some disgusting things on the way to matches but it does seem to be a vocal minority that are responsible, every club has them and their numbers seem to be dwindling as time goes by.  Sadly I think it’s unlikely that anyone will be held accountable as the video doesn’t show anyone’s face clearly.

One thing that does annoy me is that this is being widely reported as taking place in Stamford Hill, with its large Jewish community, on London Underground.  First off the Tube doesn’t go to Stamford Hill and secondly it’s clearly not a Tube train, it’s a Greater Anglia 315 out of Liverpool Street on its way to White Hart Lane which does go through Stamford Hill.  Pedantic but it's another example of shoddy journalism.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Yesterday Boris announced that in 2017 Night Tube would be expanded to cover the Met, Circle, District and H&C along with the Overground and the DLR, all of which seems a little presumptuous given that he won’t be mayor by then but also somewhat premature as there’s no guarantee that Night Tube will even go ahead in September.  Amid all the fanfares and photo opportunities what no one at City Hall or TfL has mentioned is that under our current agreement Tube staff are only required to run a service overnight twice a year; on New Year’s Eve and on any other occasion deemed necessary, the last instance being the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012.  Or at least that is what I've been told.

If LUL want to run a 24 hour service two nights a week then they are going to have to negotiate with the unions.  When they finally do you can guarantee that RMT and TSSA will have a few things to say about station staffing, especially all those stations outside Zone 1 where there will be a solitary member of staff left to deal with the drunks staggering back from the West End and especially as Boris’s announcement came hot on the heels of the news that assaults on LU staff have gone up 44% in the last five years.

TfL’s laughable attempt to suggest the rise was due to their recent efforts to encourage staff to report assaults that previously would have gone unreported is as much nonsense as Boris excusing his U-turn on ticket office closures on advances in technology since 2008.   Even when I was on stations back in the last century everything got reported, all belittling the level of assaults does is reinforce the perception of “them and us” between staff down in the Tubes and the suits in their comfy offices.

In addition to negotiations on Night Tube there’s the issue of our next pay deal, the last one in 2011 was for three years so at the moment there is no agreement.  The first meetings took place earlier this month with LUL pleading poverty as they do every time, even recycling the "fair and affordable" mantra they used in 2011.  ASLEF conjured up a wishlist that would have the average Daily Mail reader seething with anti-union outrage, I could go into detail but it seems somewhat pointless as I don't think we've much realistic chance of getting any of the things listed apart from some items on parental and maternity leave which won’t affect me unless its extended to goldfish.

I expect we will end up with something pretty much like last time, a 3 or 4 year deal at RPI plus 0.5% or 2% whichever is greater, which seems to be pretty much standard for the rail industry regardless of whether they are publicly or privately operated.  The big difference is that the last pay deal wasn't agreed until October, this year LUL might have to settle things a little earlier than that.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

RMT announced the result of their ballot yesterday, 299 voted for strike action, 221 voted against and there was one spoilt paper, hardly the overwhelming support they were hoping for.  I read somewhere that this was a 42% turnout which gives RMT about 1240 TOps on their books, rather more than had been suggested at the end of last year.  If Boris were around perhaps he’d point out that only 24% of RMT members support strike action but it appears that he’s given up any attempt of pretending to be Mayor and is currently on some sort of world tour trying to promote himself as future Prime Ministerial material.

There has been the predictable press outrage with the usual shoddy journalism, several inaccurately report that AMcG was driving a train while drunk or that he failed two tests on two separate dates.  Management are sticking to their version of the story, declaring that RMT are asking its members to “defend the indefensible” but still haven’t given a reason why they have rejected RMT’s offer to call of the strike if they agree to abide by the Employment Tribunals decision and give AMcG his job back if it is decided that he has been unfairly sacked.

Until they can offer up an explanation for refusing this option we are left with two possibilities; either they know that AMcG was unfairly dismissed and that they will lose at the Tribunal or they simply don’t care if there’s a strike, possibly they even welcome one.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Normally when there’s a dispute I have to scrabble around online trying to get information but while not many hours of work have been lost so far over the sacking of Alex McGuigan hundreds of trees have been sacrificed as we’ve been deluged with memos from both sides and here’s what I’ve managed to glean from them.

Let’s start with basics, random D&A testing happens all the time, AMcG wasn’t singled out because they thought he was drunk, it was just a regular thing, normally when someone fails a test they are sacked and nothing is ever heard.  LU’s drugs and alcohol policy states that a maximum of seven units can be consumed in the 24 hours before booking on for duty but none at all in the eight hours before.  AMcG has maintained that he’d stayed within LU’s limits, he was due to book on at 12:20, drank less than six units the previous evening and stopped well before the eight hour deadline making Nigel Holness’s claim that he’d admitted he’d been drinking before starting work deliberately misleading.

While it is true that certain types of diabetes can cause an excess of acetone which can give a false positive reading on old style semi-conductor breathalyzers the new fuel cell types are supposed to be immune from such problems and LU claims “the Lion Alcometer (breathalyser) we use in London Underground does not give false positive results“.  Having been the subject in a random D&A test last year I think I can identify the breathalyser used as the Lion Alcolmeter ® 400 – you’d think they could at least get the spelling right.  On Lion’s website the blurb tells us “the reading is very unlikely to be affected by anything in the subject’s breath other than alcohol” which isn’t quite as emphatic as LU’s claim.

RMT claims that the test was carried out by “an unsupervised trainee”; in reply LU states that while trainees may be present they are always accompanied by an experienced and qualified testing supervisor who will conduct any secondary tests.  It has been stated that AMcG failed two tests and LU confirms that If the first test fails then a second one will be automatically be taken.  If the test was carried out by an unsupervised trainee then clearly LU breached its own procedures and inexperience could have led to a mistake

The obvious problem with LU admitting that there might be the slightest possibility of the Lion 400 giving an inaccurate reading or that the staff might not be sufficiently trained to take the tests is that it puts an element of doubt on all the previous test that have led to staff being dismissed and where the unions didn’t make a fuss.  RMT ask why the urine sample wasn’t tested when the breathalyser result was questioned and why a medical review wasn’t held.  LU says that the urine sample doesn’t reflect the level of alcohol in the blood stream at the time of the test and that medical reviews are held after a positive drugs test, not a failed alcohol test.

A very noticeable point is that RMT has offered to call off strike action if management agree to reinstate AMcG should his dismissal be deemed unfair by the Employment Tribunal but this was rejected and the obvious question is if LU are so sure of their case why would they not agree to this?  The implication is that there’s something they’re not telling us and sadly they have form, in the past evidence has emerged that proved that management weren’t telling the whole story.  At one tribunal a manager was described as “an unreliable witness”, as close as you can get in legal terms to saying someone is telling porkies.

Of course it could be that AMcG is the one not telling the truth but the strength of support from the other TOps, both RMT and ASLEF, in the limited strike at Morden depot last month suggests that his colleagues believe him.  Depots are small places, there’s plenty of gossip and if anyone there thought that AMcG was a boozer then when he failed the test there would have been a general shrugging of shoulders.  The decision to ballot all Lines rather than just the Northern came after Victoria and Piccadilly Line staff at Finsbury Park branch backed a motion to spread the dispute so rather than a strike imposed from the union’s leadership this seems to be coming from the members.

In the end it comes down to who to believe, who to trust.  While LU’s statements are accepted by the media, the public and the politicians sadly they have little credibility with their employees.  The past has taught us that management will stick to their story no matter if it’s true or not, they simply refuse to compromise even when faced with inevitable defeat.  If it does come to strike action then even though ASLEF are not involved and won’t be balloted I will not be crossing the picket line