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Tube workers win 35-hour week through strike action
RMT rail union members working at London Underground stations have voted overwhelmingly to accept an offer from management to introduce a 35- hour week. This has been an aim of the RMT for several years and London Underground has previously broken promises to introduce it.
Currently, station staff work 37.5 hours while train drivers already benefit from a 35-hour week. Under the new deal station staff will actually work for 37.5 hours and 'bank' the surplus 2.5 hours each week. These banked hours will then be rolled into the annual leave entitlement. With bank holidays included this comes to a total of 52 days' leave.
The London Evening Standard, for whom 'Smash the RMT' is a mission statement, has reported that tubeworkers will work 35 hours a week and get 52 days leave on top. While the tabloids have exaggerated the concession given by management, nevertheless, this deal represents a victory for RMT members and a vindication of last June's strike action.
Back then LU management said a 35 hour week could only be funded if unions agreed to massive job cuts on stations. They have backed down on this and have given a written assurance that introducing the shorter working week will not see a net reduction of staff.
However, some strings have been accepted by RMT. The most serious relate to ticket office staffing. While no-one will lose their job or grade as a result of the deal, 200 ticket office positions will be abolished. They will be replaced with new positions across several grades, mainly to provide cover for the extra days off given to all station staff.
RMT will have to be ready to protect individuals who face an unacceptable move as a result of their position being abolished. Potentially an even bigger problem could arise if promotion prospects are cut off as a result of reduced ticket office opportunities.
RMT has also agreed to allow LU to carry out an exercise in assessing future staffing needs across the network of stations. Critically RMT has not agreed to accept the conclusions of this exercise but management may try to use it to justify staff cuts in the future.
The potential implications of some of the productivity strings are serious but RMT has not agreed to accept any overall job cuts and lives to fight another day when management will undoubtedly come back with demands for staff cuts.
Overall the deal is a big step forward for station staff on LU but there are also regrets that more was not achieved, especially when strike action was first planned in May in the run-up to the London mayoral elections but the union's executive called the action off. Nevertheless, successful strike action occurred in June but despite the agreed position of a mass meeting for more strike dates the campaign was then called off for more talks. This has led to calls for more democratic involvement in key decisions over industrial action.
But when public-sector employers are attacking pension rights and demanding a permanent process of "reform" the RMT agreement shows an offensive struggle on wages and hours can still be won with good old-fashioned strike action.
In The Socialist 29 January 2005: