Tube strike will hit New Year revels

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The Independent Online

New year revellers face travel chaos after the RMT rail union today announced a 24-hour strike on the Tube to start at 12 noon on 31 December.

The union also announced a further 24-hour London Underground (LU) stoppage to last from 6.30pm on Sunday 8 January to Monday 9 January.

The two dates were chosen after a strike ballot in which RMT Tube staff voted by more than five to one to take industrial action in a dispute over the working week and staff levels on the Underground.

The New Year's Eve stoppage will wreck plans of people who intended to take advantage of the tradition of LU running trains all night on 31 December.

Transport for London had already announced the continuous running for this year, with the Tube being free from 11.45pm on New Year's Eve until 4.30am on New Year's Day.

Last December the RMT agreed a deal which would effectively create a 35-hour week for Tube station staff.

But RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that today's vote had been taken "over Tube bosses' back-door attempts to displace hundreds of safety-critical station staff under spurious cover of the recent 35-hour week deal".

Mr Crow went on: "We are asking LU now to take a step back and withdraw the rosters they are attempting to impose on our members without agreement or safety validation."

He said the ball was now back in LU's court and he said that the RMT headquarters was shutting down for Christmas at 5pm tomorrow and would not reopen until January 1, so management had "better get a move on".

Asked if he was concerned about the chaos that might ensue from the December 31 strike, Mr Crow said "absolutely". But he added that he was more concerned about safety on the Tube.

And asked if it was an unpopular move to call a strike on New Year's Eve, Mr Crow said: "Any decision will be unpopular, but the reality of life is that we will not accept dilution of safety."

A London Underground spokesman said: "There are no staff cuts across the Tube network."

LU added that the 35-hour, five-day working week was something RMT "campaigned for and signed over a year ago and which was endorsed by their general secretary, executive council and Tube membership by a margin of 30 to 1".

LU went on: "We and the RMT agreed to implement a shorter working week, as long as it came at no extra cost to the Tube farepayers. This means some staff being redeployed from ticket offices to station platforms and ticket halls, which can also boost reassurance for our passengers and security.

"There will be no overall cuts in staff numbers. The continued success of the Oyster travel card has led to a significant reduction in the demand for paper tickets - one million less paper tickets each week - reducing the need for the same number of staff in ticket offices.

"We hope this can be resolved without the need for strike action."

Roger Evans, chairman of the London Assembly transport committee, said: "This is not the season to be jolly on London Underground. The RMT may believe industrial action is beneficial for its members. But inflicting Underground passengers with a barrage of strikes is not a success for businesses and shoppers, especially during such a lucrative time for retailers and the capital's economy.

"It will also dampen the spirits of New Year revellers. Commuters are already bracing themselves for the nightmare of sections of the Underground shutting down for long periods of repair work. Tube managers need to get a grip and set up proper negotiations with Underground workers. It's time to put an end to this strike culture."

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