Friday 24 July 2015

Things are not looking good, it seems that management have no intention of negotiating and have taken to threatening legal action to stop the strikes which has used in the past as a tactic successfully …..errrrrr….. never.  What doesn’t help is that there are four unions representing every area of LU with numerous grievances so there’s just not enough time to cover all the issues.  Remember it was LU who insisted on negotiating the pay rise and Night Tube together, the unions wanted to look at these as separate issues.

To further complicate matters as a result of the overtime ban it seems that when working their normal hours there aren’t enough depot staff to do everything that’s needed.  In order to get round this LU have been instructing managers to fill in and RMT are questioning whether they have the appropriate licences to do whatever it is they’re doing.  Rather than sit down at ACAS on Monday RMT went off to raise this issue with the ORR although we’ve not heard what the result was.

Meanwhile since Clive shuffled off this mortal coil Slick has been looking decidedly lonely in the fish tank so on Sunday I went to the aquarium shop in Bethnal Green to get him some new playmates.  Initially when I put them in the tank he looked quite smug swimming around, finally the biggest fish in the tank after years of being the smallest.  However when I went back the next day I found that the new arrivals had decided the best way to introduce themselves was to chew lumps out his tail which is still large but now rather ragged.  The worst offender was the Blue Shubunkin, now known as Sid (Vicious) while the two common goldfish will be Doug and Dinsdale.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Meanwhile away from the problems of Night Tube Tuesday’s rain played just as much merry hell with ATO as it did on Sunday, some trains are fine and behave perfectly in the wet but the two I had were absolutely useless.  Not that rain is needed, on Wednesday I came to a juddering halt halfway over the points leaving EAB with not a cloud in the sky and then again later in tunnel on the approach to GAH.  What is amusing is that in the last few months someone has put up posters telling us that we are to use ATO whenever possible and NOT drive in manual unless it is absolutely necessary.
As well as the usual ATO/ATP failures there’s been a noticeable increase in traction faults, where a two car “unit” loses power and you have no motors coming from it.  Having one or two units without motors is fine and even with just one unit working the train might struggle but it will still make it to the next station.  Unfortunately there have been occasions where I’ve lost all four units, the worst place for this is on the EB approach to SHB and I’ve been getting at least one traction fault a week at this particular spot.
A few years ago we were instructed not to reset while the train was moving as that can “isolate” the unit so if you have lost all four units you either let the train roll to a halt in ATO or stop it using the emergency brake.  On the approach to SHB you’re only doing 20kph and there isn’t enough momentum to take you into the platform (I know, I tried it once) so the best thing is to let it get to a reasonably slow speed, knock out the TBC, reset and carry on in Coded.
The other increasingly common fault has been the Data Transmission System, the computer that tells us what’s going on with the train.  In addition to flashing up faults DTS affects the destination display on the front of the train, SONIA, the chimes that warn when doors are opening or closing and the countdown clock in the cab that tells us when it’s time to go. Obviously if there’s a fault on DTS then DTS won’t tell you about it so If you see a train going the wrong way, say a WB train going to EPP, then more than likely there's a DTS fault and the TOp hasn’t noticed.

Finally sad news from the DLR, the seats are being converted from traverse to longitudinal and while I understand that this will increase capacity I will feel sorry for all the kids (and no doubt a few adults) who have enjoyed sitting at the front enjoying the driver's eye view, somehow craning your neck sideways just won't be the same.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

And we’re off again, ASLEF have set another strike date giving management three weeks to start taking us seriously and start negotiating about how Night Tube will be implemented rather than keep offering us money to accept their current proposals.  The first meeting at ACAS will be today and I’ll be keeping a close eye on Our Man Finn’s twitter feed hoping for good news.  Oh for those of you who don’t get the pop culture reference think 1966 James Bond parody starring James Coburn.

Finn made a very good point in the Observer on Sunday, last November when YouGov conducted a survey on what Londoners wanted from the Tube cheaper fares came on top with 49% while longer opening hours lagged behind on 16% and more frequent services only got 9%.  Indeed a spot of Googling reveals that cheaper fares have been at the top of the list for a long time and transport was the key issue for Londoners until April last year when housing took the lead.

This year Boris had the option of keeping fares down or cutting his share of council tax and as with every other year he chose to reduce council tax, reducing our bills by an average of £40 per household per year.  This is perfectly understandable, like all good Tories Boris is happier reducing tax and putting the cost of services onto the users but he is inconsistent.  Night Tube will lose £19.6m in the first year and isn’t expected to break even until the 2030s so it seems that in this case Boris is happy for the cost to be borne by the tax payer rather than those that will benefit.

This isn’t the only example of Boris’s inconsistency, he’s happy to throw £30m of taxpayers money on Joanna Lumley’s Garden Bridge and pay the £3.5m annual running costs out of TfL’s budget despite promising he wouldn’t.  He spent £65m of taxpayers money on the cable car having promised that it would be completely funded by private investment and he’s signed us up to paying for the Borisbus until they fall apart because Arriva and the other bus companies refused to take them on themselves.

When it comes to things that would be useful and popular - like keeping fares low - Boris is a true neo-liberal but when it’s something dramatic that he will  be able to point to in future years as a legacy of his two terms as Mayor of London - such as Night Tube or the Boris Bus – he seems perfectly happy to let the taxpayer carry the burden.  Every time Boris has been questioned about the strike he’s insisted that it’s politically motivated but perhaps rather than the strike it is Night Tube itself that’s political.

Monday 13 July 2015

A difficult weekend, on Saturday we had another one-under at MIE, this time I was at TCR heading WB which left me stuck the wrong side of the line while the ERU and the emergency services dealt with the mess.  I’ve since heard that the TOp involved was one of my LES colleagues; best wishes, mate, we’ll be happy to see you when you’re ready to come back.  On Sundays we drive the trains manually east of LES and west of WHC to keep in practice and it was just as well as ATO was repeatedly failing due to the rain on the sections in between where we emerge from the tunnel sections (STR, LEY and WHC).  Oh yeah, these trains drive themselves…..

I’ve been checking around and it seems that the only major city with extensive 24/7 rail service is New York, in Chicago only two lines out of eight run continuously and while Copenhagen is 24/7 it only has two lines serving 22 stations making it smaller than the DLR.  Berlin, Vienna and Stockholm all run 24 hours at weekend but everywhere else the subway/metro systems close at night.  If anyone knows of any other 24 hour metros/subways I’ll be pleased to add them to the list.  On the BBC Sunday Politics David Leam of London First claimed that Sydney has 24 hour service but this is untrue, instead it has buses following the routes of the lines after the trains stop running.  Facts, aren’t they annoying.

We have now had two occasions to see Our Man Finn and the new COO Steve Griffiths go head-to-head on the BBC, on Wednesday’s London evening news slot and on the Sunday Politics, both times Finn has refused to let Griffiths off the hook over the 6:30pm deadline, both times Griffiths uncertain, hesitant  and unconvincing performance gave him the look of a man who is seriously wishing he had stuck with aviation rather than taking a job on the railways.  I’ve been looking for a suitable nickname for our new COO, somehow he doesn’t seem to live up to the “Dark Overlord” mantle, I was thinking possibly “Biggles” but after he seemed to melt under a combination of studio lighting and Finn’s barbs I’m favouring “Sweaty Steve”.  Too harsh?

Along with a new COO we now apparently have a new Managing Director in the shape of Nick Brown who at least has spent time working on the railways.  Two thoughts arise, the first being what do all these senior managers actually do as we seem to have a lot of people at the top with fancy job titles and even fancier salaries.  The second is there seems to have been a lot of people named Brown in senior positions up at 55 Broadway, there must have been at least 3 or 4 since I joined, perhaps we should follow the example of the University of Woolamalloo Philosophy Department and any new appointee should change their name to Brown in order to keep things simple.

Saturday 11 July 2015

A lot of people were wondering why services finished so early on Wednesday, myself included, I am told that some of the technical types finish their shifts at 19:00,and with the RMT/TSSA strike starting at 18:30 the technicians starting their shift at 19:00 weren’t expected to turn up.  Obviously If a serious fault had developed there would have been no one to fix it and we could have been left with trains stuck in tunnels for 24 hours which would have led to serious problems Friday morning.  In order to avoid that possible scenario it was decided to get the trains stabled before the techies went home.

Or that is what I’ve been told, if anyone can confirm I’d be grateful.

Friday 10 July 2015

Well that went well or not depending on your point of view, hopefully it was enough to give management reason to return to the negotiations with a little less macho posturing and a lot more willingness to find a compromise solution that addresses our grievances.  One thing I did find interesting was Boris saying “I am not as hug up on the date.  We’ll get it done this Autumn” when asked about the future of Night Tube.  Being an eternal optimist that suggests to me that Plan A - impose Night Tube without consulting the staff - has been discarded and Plan B - take the time to talk to the staff about how to make it happen - is now in effect.  It probably means nothing of the sort but I can hope.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Management are displaying a level of coquettishness similar to the one that inspired Andrew Marvell to write “To his coy mistress” in the mid-17th century and the one I encountered at the 1977 Dagenham Priory Comprehensive post-O level disco while trying to explore the inside of Linda Coggins’s bra.  Despite insisting on Monday that they wouldn’t be available for talks on Tuesday it seems that management found a “window” in their diary and everyone trooped back to ACAS.   I’ve not heard how far talks progressed but obviously they failed and so we will be on strike tomorrow.
Apparently there are suggestions that the strike is political and that the unions called the strike purely as retaliation to the Tories winning the General Election.  Not only is that laughable it’s not even original, Network Rail accused RMT and TSSA of exactly the same thing when they were threatening to strike in May, LUL are so bereft of ideas they’re using second hand smears!
As usual there are plenty of rumours going around the mess rooms, one I’ve heard is that out of the five depots on the Central Line only two would be getting Night Tube shifts and one of those would be mine.  Not only would this mean that less than half of the TOps on the Central Line would get the bonuses on offer but also that TOps at those two depots would work overnight far more often than management’s estimate of seven times a year.  Add in that at LES we also work Saturdays on the W&C and it means that a weekend where we didn’t work would become an extremely rare thing.  As I said it’s only a rumour but it’s an example of how TOps feel that this whole thing has been badly planned and why we want to know all the details of management’s proposals before we agree to anything.
I’ve no idea what will happen tonight, at what time stations will start closing or when trains will start being put away but as usual the media has confused “staff will not book on after” with “staff will stop working at”.  As far as I’m concerned I will start work around 3pm and carry on until my finish time around 10:30pm unless Wood Lane tells me to stop.
Let's hope things get better....

Tuesday 7 July 2015

LU’s management team still don’t seem to understand exactly what is wrong with their proposals on Night Tube, they don’t seem able to negotiate nor do they seem to understand quite how unions work.  Because of their failure to grasp what are pretty simple concepts we are going to have a strike on Thursday although they don’t seem too bothered about it.  Yesterday at ACAS they put a new offer on the table but told unions they had until 6:30pm to accept, approve the new timetables and call off the strike.  Our reps had to reject the ultimatum as they have to consult with the members, our local reps and the Executive Council before agreeing to any deal so instead they offered to come back to ACAS for further talks today but LU refused.

The deal on the table – well, on the table until 6:30pm yesterday - was 2% this year (good), RPI or 1% whichever is greater for the next two years (not so good) and a £500 “launch bonus” for all staff affected by Night Tube with an additional £2000 for TOps (giraffe’s testicles).  It wouldn’t matter how big the one off bonus was, it won’t make working the night shifts on Fridays and Saturdays any more attractive and we’d be working far more weekends that we currently do.

If LU really want Night Tube to happen they are going to have to start talking to our reps, stop thinking in terms of one-off bonuses and start thinking about incentivising those night shifts.  That is going to mean working them at a higher rate of pay and/or extra rest days in the week after although for myself there is nothing they could offer that would ever make me want to work them.  Night Tube was announced on 24 September last year, for over nine months LU has stuck with Plan A but if they want progress they need a Plan B and they will need the unions’ help to sell it to their employees.

I’ve been doing a little Googling on Steve Griffiths who became our new Chief Operating Officer in May, his first job was as an a Senior Service Engineer at Rolls Royce in 1986 and after nine years there he moved to a similar job at Virgin Atlantic.  He worked his way steadily up the ladder becoming Chief Operating Officer in 2009 but after four years his job was “restructured” out of existence.  After six months “resting” he found himself a job as a director at Bond Aviation, a company that specialises in helicopter transport and then he came to us.  With all that aviation experience he might still have his head in the clouds but if so then the next few weeks are sure to bring him back down to earth with a bump.

Good luck for Thursday everybody, this is not going to be easy.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Two weeks after ASLEF declared the result of the strike ballot it appears that management are starting to realise that they can just stick their heads in the sand and hope that everything goes away.  On Tuesday at ACAS the unions made it plain that unless the new roster sheets that included Night Tube were withdrawn there could be no negotiation and yesterday management conceded by withdrawing the sheets.  We’ll be back at ACAS today but there’s still a long way to go and considering that it has taken five months to get this far I’m not brimming with confidence that things will be resolved before Wednesday night.

To remind everyone what the situation is, LU have offered a pay rise of 0.75% this year after initially offering 0.5% with RPI next year.  Our previous deal was RPI+0.5% with 2% minimum, RPI in February was 1.1% so they’re not even offering us inflation.  Other train drivers on the privatised TOCs are getting 2% or above and that is the yardstick by which we compare ourselves.  For Night Tube they’re offering a £250 one-off bonus for TOps working at affected depots, another £250 if the deal was settled by the end of June which obviously didn’t happen and another £250 after 3 months of Night Tube if there had been no trouble, which seems unlikely.

When our union reps refused this LU threw their toys out of the pram and declared that if we didn’t agree there would be no pay rise at all but when that failed they begged the unions to go to ACAS.   At the first meeting management refused to sit in the same room as our reps and at the second they sat there for 20 minutes simply remarking that our position was “noted”.

The next seven days could be very interesting......