Storm in a tea urn threatens the Tube

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The Independent Online

It will be of cold comfort to London's long-suffering commuters that the latest industrial dispute to threaten rush-hour misery champions the most quintessential of worker's rights: a good cup of tea from water boiled in an urn.

In a stand-off with management that is likely to provide the ultimate test of the maxim "Everything stops for tea", London Underground train drivers are demanding commercial water boilers instead of kettles in certain mess rooms.

The apparently vexed issue of "urns-for-all" forms part of a series of demands from drivers who have to start or end their shift at an outlying station instead of their own depots. The logic is simple, according to Aslef, the train drivers' union: water boilers save time and add to the comfort of the increasing number of drivers required to clock on or off away from their original depot.

Aslef was arguing its case robustly yesterday. "Water boilers [mean] hot water is available on tap," insisted Andrew Murray, the union's communications officer. "This enables drivers to have their cup of tea without being late for their shift. If they have to wait for a kettle to boil then this could cause delays."

Negotiations over tea-breaks appeared to have reached an impasse when London Underground stressed it provided free tea bags and instant coffee to staff but considered a kettle to be "sufficient" for mess rooms at outlying stations.

Aslef and the RMT union met management at the conciliation service Acas but were far from confident of reaching an agreement. Dates for the strike ballot have been pencilled in and a declaration is expected in about four weeks. Commuters may justifiably fear that this will prove considerably more than a storm in a tea cup.