Tube staff threaten strikes to disrupt festive season

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The Independent Online

Last-minute shoppers and commuters face a chaotic run-up to Christmas in London as industrial action threatens the Tube network over the festive season and into the new year.

In one of four disputes, London Underground workers at the infrastructure company Metronet are expected to walk out for three days from 21 December, in protest at the management's decision to contract out some of its work.

That would mean massive disruption on the two-thirds of the system maintained by Metronet forcing travellers on to buses and taxis. Among the lines affected are the District and Circle routes which are used by more than one million people a day and cover much of the city centre.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said the 4-1 vote in favour of disruption showed the strength of feeling among the workforce. While employees' representatives had reached an agreement over a 35-hour week, there was still no deal over management's insistence on inviting contractors to take over some of its engineering projects.

"They cannot give us the assurances on outsourcing that we want and, unless the matter is resolved by next Friday, a three-day strike will be held," Mr Crow said.

In a separate dispute, London Underground station staff are threatening to walk out on New Year's Eve over the implementation of a 35-hour working week, sabotaging plans by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for an all-night Tube service .

Mr Crow said negotiations between the two sides had hit the buffers and employees would vote on industrial action with the result due on 22 December.

The union is angry over plans to transfer 500 staff as part of its strategy for a shorter working week.

At the Docklands Light Railway, a vital link between the financial centre at Canary Wharf and the centre of the capital, employees are being balloted over pay.

The RMT alleges that an original pay offer from employers of 3.4 per cent had been reduced to 3.2 per cent. Mr Crow said the first walkout could be timed to coincide with the Boat Show in Docklands on 6 January.

Meanwhile London Underground drivers will begin a ballot on Monday on industrial action short of strikes because of concerns over the maintenance of equipment if Metronet contracts out part of its service.