Redrawing industrial relations could come at a cost

Tom Edwards
Transport correspondent, London
@BBCTomEdwardson Twitter

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Image source, Reuters

Yesterday there was a strike over driver relocation on the Central Line.

The day before saw a strike ballot on career progression with the part-time Night Tube drivers and a dispute over a "breakdown in industrial relations" with maintenance workers.

Why? Well it seems that industrial relations are being redrawn.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he would bring in a more constructive relationship with the unions.

He also promised "zero strikes". That didn't happen.

But I know for a fact the mayor, the transport commissioner, the TSSA and the RMT unions have met - that is in stark contrast to the previous administration.

However, with this new relationship there are now new tensions.

'The ink is still wet'

Transport bosses seem bemused the unions are upset over the relocation over eight drivers from Essex depots to Earl's Court.

They claim it is in black and white in the contracts agreed by the unions themselves.

They have quoted the contract: "Your normal work location will be Leytonstone Train Crew depot Central Line.

"[London Underground Ltd] will endeavour to allocate you to an operating location convenient to you, but reserves the right to require you to work at any place it may from time to time determine within the area served by [London Underground Ltd] and London Bus Services."

Bosses also say the new Night Tube contracts (agreed by the unions) set out that drivers must stay in their new positions for 18 months.

Image source, PA

I put it to Peter McNaught - an Operations Director at London Underground - that this was meant to be a new era of friendlier industrial relations.

"I don't know," he replied.

"This one and the dispute that's just been announced on Night Tube, these are long standing agreements we have with the trade unions.

"The ink is still wet on the Night Tube agreement. The unions signed up to it and now we're in dispute about something they only agreed to five months ago."

"I think it goes beyond London Underground and what we're doing. It's quite strange."

Senior management 'disconnect'

The unions are clearly empowered by the new relationship.

They think the extra 325 staff agreed after the recent strikes over the station staff closures was a victory and are now pushing to achieve more for their members.

I asked John Leach from the RMT if he felt his union was now trying it on under the new mayor.

He said: "I think it's the opposite.

"There is a disconnect between the senior management and their superior people at City Hall in my opinion.

"We're hearing that we should have better industrial relations and then when we talk to management we're up against the same old, same old."

Redrawing industrial relations is not straight forward. It could be a bumpy road ahead.

And the worry for commuters is it could come at a cost.

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