A major 24-hour strike by London Underground workers is set to take place on Friday morning, warning commuters that their journeys could be affected by “serious disruptions”.
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) drivers working on the Victoria, Central, Northern, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines have been ordered not to show up for work after 4:30 a.m. in protest of an unpopular shift to rosters to return the night tube.
Transport for London (TfL) said the industrial action would result in “little or no service in places”, with the Waterloo and City Lines – which employ Central Line drivers – likely to be affected as well.
Another full-day strike is currently planned for Saturday, December 18, should no agreement be reached between the two sides.
The Night Tube is set to resume on Saturday evening for the first time since its suspension at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, but only on the Victoria and Central lines, whose drivers now do not have to work from 8:30 p.m. Saturday to Sunday 4:30 a.m.
TfL still expects to offer a service but admits there may be fewer trains than hoped, according to data The evening standard.
Further night strikes from 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. are currently planned for December 3, December 4, December 10, December 11 and December 17.
First launched in August 2016, the Night Tube opened to allow weekend owls and evening workers to return home safely via the subway instead of waiting for taxis and buses on the streets of the capital after dark.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been offline since the beginning of the pandemic, announced his return on two routes last month amid at least two petitions pending reinstating the Young Women Protection Service in response to the Sarah Everard murders and Sabina Nessa was challenged earlier this year.
While this announcement has been broadly welcomed by the public and businesses in the West End, RMT members are unhappy with TfL’s move in May to permanently hire Night Tube staff of around 200 drivers, many of whom work part-time with the daytime staff of the subway, which means that all drivers have to work four weekend late shifts per year.
Another union, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), accepted the change, but RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the new working arrangements would “destroy the work-life balance of our members.”
“This strike is about breaking up popular and family-friendly agreements that helped make the original Night Tube so successful,” Lynch said.
“Instead, the company wants to cut costs and put all drivers in a pool where they can be tossed from pillar to post at the behest of management.
“We have made every effort at ACAS [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] and face-to-face talks since launch to resolve this dispute, but it is clear that the London Underground bosses are driven solely by the bottom line and have no interest in the welfare of their staff or the service to passengers. “
Mr Lynch previously warned that the current configuration could leave staff “burned out and exposed to unbearable pressure” and described the pre-pandemic night tube as “a magnet for violent, abusive and antisocial behavior” where the antics of drunk passengers were placed an undesirable additional burden on the subway staff.
Nick Dent, Director of London Underground Customer Operations, said: “The RMT’s proposed strike action is unnecessary and will jeopardize London’s recovery from the pandemic, although no jobs will be lost and drivers will have more flexibility and job security.
“While every other union has agreed to these changes and our employees have been taking advantage of the changes since August, we are ready to work with the RMT and review the changes after the Night Tube services return. This review can only be successful if the RMT agrees to speak to us and withdraws its proposed action so that we can all see how these changes work in practice.
“If the RMT refuses to contact us and takes its unnecessary measures to create maximum disruption for our customers who want to enjoy London over the Christmas period, Londoners are advised to get on strike days prior to their trip to inquire. ”
Another objection to the strike was Mr Khan, who said: “The unnecessary strike actions threatened by RMT would delay many Londoners who have another option to travel home safely at night and would hold our city back at a time when our culture is – and the hospitality sector no longer functions devastated by the pandemic. “
Both the RMT and the TfL have stated that they will “remain open to discussion” and there is still a chance that a final agreement will be reached.
TfL, meanwhile, offers advice and more information on its website for commuters who are likely to have run into trouble from Friday’s upheaval.
As another potential headache for the London Underground, ASLEF has also warned that it could strike in the future if changes to TfL’s pension system that affect its members are enforced.
Former union congress general secretary and current ACAS boss Sir Brendan Barber has been appointed to lead a “truly independent” review of TfL pensions, and the latter’s commissioner Andy Byford insisted that there was “no predetermined outcome” .