Fight begins for the future of the London Underground

 
A closed ticket office at Covent Garden

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Station staff are the lifeblood of the London Underground (LU).

When you are four-deep on a platform trying to get onto a packed Tube train it is reassuring to hear that voice over the public-address system.

They excelled at the 2012 London Olympics and they have had to deal with dreadful circumstances like the 7/7 bombings in 2005.

Some belong to the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, some belong to the less militant TSSA.

But if you strip out the unions and poor industrial relations then you find some employees are genuinely scared about their future. The strikes may have been suspended but those issues haven't changed.

Staff have told me they think this dispute is really about redeployment - the moving of roles from quieter outer London stations into town and increasing staff flexibility.

Commuters at King's Cross during the strike Commuters faced severe delays during the 48-hour strike this month by the RMT and TSSA unions

Another said it was about cutting the wage bill, one said it was just about restructuring and trying to get cheaper staff.

At the moment most staff behind ticket offices are what are called Station Assistant Multi-Functional (SAMF). There are 1,205 of them on an average wage, according to LU, of £35,000.

With the changes - subject to consultation - they can apply for a new position of Customer Service Supervisor (CSS) with a salary of £42,000.

That would be nice, you'd think, but there are only 660 CSS positions.

Bob Crow's RMT have campaigned against ticket closures The RMT claims 950 jobs will be lost due to the ticket office closures

The RMT claims another 1,176 people from other grades will also be competing for those 660 jobs. LU says it won't be that many and also with voluntary redundancies the number will be much lower.

But even without the exact figure, hundreds of staff will drop down to Customer Service Agent (CSA) grade with a salary of £29,000 and that won't necessarily be good for staff morale.

The agreement is their pay won't drop for three years, but then what?

LU sent me this statement: "The changes in staff development will mean we have more staff rostered to work in public areas of stations, including platforms than we have today.

"We are committed not to make any compulsory redundancies and there will be a job for every employee who wants to stay and is willing to be flexible. There will remain around 5,000 staff working on public areas of stations - a level of staffing way beyond that which exists elsewhere on the country's rail network.

Fewer journeys
Hundreds of commuters queue for the tube at Earl's Court While LU and the unions do battle over the future of the Tube it is the public who are caught in the middle

"The proposed staffing changes would mean some existing staff applying for the new roles.

"We will provide full support to our staff who are unsuccessful in these applications, including a three year protection of earnings. During the three years of protection of earnings, staff would be able to apply for and obtain suitable roles within London Underground that pay a higher salary.

"They would also have three years of annual pay awards within that time. Our proposals also include voluntary severance for a proportion of our staff. This means that, in reality, few staff will experience a loss of earnings. "

Staff will want lots of reassurance on that specific point about what "few" means. They'll also want reassurance about other proposals including the safety of lone workers.

LU says how commuters buy tickets has changed and, with Oyster and the dawn of bankcard payments, fewer journeys involve a ticket office.

Poor industrial relations

There will be actually still be ticket offices (called Visitor Information Centres) at Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and Paddington.

There is a chance a few ticket offices will be saved during the consultation process. There will also be new ticketing machines.

LU said it deliberately started this process earlier than usual to engage with the unions. It has published a list of 15 meetings where it's claimed the trade unions were invited but felt either unable to discuss the process or were felt they unable to attend.

Without any union engagement, LU started trawling for voluntary redundancies. I'm sure LU knew what would probably happen when they did that.

That lit old animosities which had been smouldering since the ticket office opening hours dispute of 2010. After that the first strike was almost inevitable.

No prior meetings and poor industrial relations meant the distrust could not be rebuilt in the timescale.

Now the strikes have been suspended we are just at the beginning.

 
Tom Edwards, Transport correspondent, London Article written by Tom Edwards Tom Edwards Transport correspondent, London

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    OK Mark and ConnerMacloed:

    First would you consider working in an environment where it's possible to be sworn at, spat at, assaulted and where work shifts and have to do so at weekends is part of your working week, ALL overtime is paid at time and a quarter and face having to be lied to by your Employer.

    Second if you would accept the above just how much are YOU prepared to do it for?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 18.

    Any reference to London Underground staff should include a reference to the fact that their salary includes london weighting and unsocial hours payments and that shift work is a killer which means they won't be alive for very long after they have retired to enjoy their pension.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 17.

    Any reference to the salary of London Underground staff should include a reference to their pension arrangements and also to the fact that staff are routinely entitled to free transport across the whole TfL network - as well as being able to 'nominate' one other person living at their same address to this expensive perk as well.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 16.

    Worth mentioning that not only ticket office staff but also control room staff and supervisors will be going for those 660 jobs.

    Experienced staff that are facing a drop in wages and demotion back to where they were 15+ years ago, no wonder a lot are considering voluntary redundancy rather than the uncertainty they would face if they stayed in the job.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 15.

    Helenp7 - there are no proposals for stations to be unstaffed, in the case of the ones that are actually underground this would be illegal under the current fire regulations.

    Tom - you missed Victoria and Heathrow 123 from the list of stations that will retain "ticket offices that won't be called ticket offices".

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    I really cant't see why anyone would want tube stations without staff. In my experience of using the tube for the last 21 years the problems in the tube are almost constant and there are more staff needed for unattended stations. Why do we pretend that the service is running so smoothly that we could have driverless trains and unattended stations?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 13.

    I also used to think station staff were overpaid for what they do, until I successfully applied for the CSA role.
    I am close to completing training and the amount we have had to learn is unbelievable.
    We do not get paid for the customer service role we perform, but for knowing what to do when things go wrong.
    The staff on the LU are very highly trained in order to put safety as the 1st priority.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 12.

    Just before I go, I hope that none of the public who deride and denigrate the staff of London Underground with their incessant criticisms of hard won terms and conditions are ever stuck in an emergency situation and require the assistance of a trained member of staff. By all means have your say but don't moan when it comes back to bite you as it surely will one day.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 11.

    One of the key reasons that ticket office sales declined was that Ticket Office Opening hours were deliberately slashed and although a clerk was in attendance, he/she was forbidden to sell a ticket from their machine under pain of a diciipline.They wanted to sell tickets but had to direct passengers elsewhere. Sounds ridiculous but that's the reason TFL don't mention in their anti union rhetoric.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 10.

    I frequently use Stratford station in east london , and this nonsense that the ticket office is not needed is a blatant lie,there is always a queue of people needing refunds (I've been in that situation due to me not touching in on my oyster) , tourists who need advise regarding ticket prices , failed and damaged oyster cards needing to be replaced. Cant get rid of them altogether .

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 9.

    8.jon777


    Connor Macleod's first job was in London on 13K a year. I managed to rent a room in a flatshare in zone 1 and survive on that salary just fine, until I got a better paid job. It's called budgeting - more people should learn to do it. Overpaying public sector workers is just bad money management.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 8.

    ConnorMacleod might want to try and live anywhere in the UK, for 12-18000 a year. So after tax and insurance 9-15k a year.
    Why are people so outraged that a living wage is paid.
    Average 1 bed flat in london is 12k a year.
    Don't you want people to eat?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 7.

    Where does one go to get a replacement Oyster card when it fails - as they often do in my experience? no ticket office staff to help so you could be stuck.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 6.

    999 call operators earned between £23,861-£27,569 in 2012. I believe talking to a friend who works for the tube that £35k is for ticket office staff, the ones outside earn £29k. Personally, after hearing some of my friends tales of dealing with people who have threatened staff with knives, guns, people taken ill, threatening to jump under trains - its not a job I would consider doing!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 5.

    This dispute seems to completely misrepresent the needs of the 3m or so people that use the service every day, the vast majority of whom use electronic ticketing, and who need staff who can be in the right part of the station at the right time, not permanently stuck behind a bulletproof glass window.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 4.

    3.cheesedofflondon
    What people forget... paid not only to be customer service but also to be responsible for your life ...on a daily basis



    So are 999 phone operators, paramedics and pool/beach lifeguards but they don't get paid £35,000 - indeed they are far more responsible for saving many more lives on a daily basis than a customer service agent in London Underground.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 3.

    What people forget when they show shock or outrage over the salary of these workers is that these people are paid not only to be customer service but also to be responsible for your life and hundreds/thousands of others on a daily basis. Cutting staff means your safety is at risk either while on the tube or walking through a deserted station late at night. This isn't just about pay !

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 2.

    £35,000 is a very high salary for that role. It pains me to know that some of the rude, unfriendly staff I've interacted with at ticket offices might be earning so much for so little customer service provided. That said, some ticket staff are very helpful, and they are the ones who deserve the Supervisor positions.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1.

    £35,000 is a ridiculous salary to pay a customer service assistant on the underground. The equivalent in the private sector for a similar job would be somewhere between £12,000 and £18,000. The trade unions are so greedy and stupid that they don't realise that they're biting the hand that feeds them (the taxpayer). Their gravy train is coming to the end of the line...

 

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